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Streamwood High lights up experiments with solar panels

Physical Science teacher Greg Reivtalks about how he uses solar energy his classroom Streamwood High School Wednesday. The high school

Physical Science teacher Greg Reiva talks about how he uses solar energy in his classroom at Streamwood High School Wednesday. The high school held a “Solarbration” for students and officials to celebrate a Solar Energy Grant Awarded to School District U-46 and Streamwood High School. October 31, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2012 2:09PM

STREAMWOOD — All around Greg Reiva’s laboratory are the remainders of experiments, materials he’s purchased with grants, over the past 18 years.

The latest is connected to a trio of electrical cords running through the ceiling to five panels on the outside of the building. It involves a wall of metal shelving; bright, sterile lighting; an innocuous-looking basil plant Reiva said he is physically modifying — “making a tree out of it.”

But Reiva is no mad scientist. He’s the physical science teacher at Streamwood High School and “a huge advocate” for science, he said.

“I get a little crazy about it,” he said.

And those panels on the outside of the building aren’t positioned to attract a lightning strike to bring a creepy Halloween experiment to life. They are solar panels, now powering his science classes’ experiments in sustainability.

Streamwood High celebrated the installation of those solar panels — among the first at a school in northern Illinois, according to Principal Terri Lozier — with a “solarbration” on Halloween at the school.

Streamwood Village President Bille Roth and School District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres were among the officials who turned out for cake and a ribbon cutting by Reiva and Hanan Javetz of the Elgin school district’s plant operations department beneath the panels on the south side of the school building.

“The installment and operation is going to give our students increased opportunities to learn science in a more rigorous and relevant way,” Reiva said.

Torres praised the science teacher’s collaboration with the district’s plant operations department to purchase the panels through an $8,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

Once it received the grant, the district installed the panels at the school in early September. Since then, the panels have produced about 1,000 watts of continuous electrical power to the science classroom — a total 350 kilowatt hours, Reiva said. That’s enough to power 11 homes for one hour, or one home for about eight hours, he said.

What it’s actually powering, he said, is the florescent light bulbs in the classroom greenhouse, part of students’ study of sustainability efforts.

The sun produces the power for the greenhouse lights. A worm farm in the back of the classroom produces the organic fertilizer for the soil. That means the basil and peppers growing in the classroom’s organic farm project are produced with no carbon footprint, he said.

“That’s called sustainable living,” Reiva said. “We’ve got to move toward sustainable living on the planet, and the kids need to have a feel for it.”

Sophomore Ellen Swartz, 15, of Streamwood said she’s looking forward to experimenting with the organic farm project.

That’s because, Ellen said, “I’m really interested in science. It’s something I love. I especially love being eco-friendly. I have my own recycling box in my room.”

Reiva also said he’d also like to get physics students interested in storing the extra energy produced by the panels that doesn’t go into the lights in rechargeable batteries.

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