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Energy students design models for BC solar park

Developers of a proposed solar energy park in Boulder City got design ideas from some of Clark County School District’s brightest young minds.

Middle school students in the district’s inaugural Highly Gifted Summer Academy at Clark High School, 4291 W. Pennwood Ave., spent three weeks in June and July studying energy science. The course was taught by Kimberly Carriero, a Gifted and Talented Education teacher at Morrow and Newton elementary schools.

In just three weeks, Hyde Park Middle School seventh-grader Jeffery Luo, 11, said he learned “almost everything about energy.”

“I really enjoy it,” he said of the class. “It’s a lot of hands-on stuff, a whole lot of learning stuff, a whole lot of new stuff I haven’t learned.”

The class was offered to only 18 students, all of whom are GATE students recommended by their GATE teachers. Every student also had to score in the 99.5 percentile on a Stanford-Binet IQ test.

As a project-based class, the Highly Gifted Summer Academy partnered with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to create concepts for the Boulder City Renewable Energy Research Park, expected to break ground this year and open in 2014, according to Craig Palmer, a research professor in the school of environmental and public affairs at UNLV.

The park essentially will be a playground of renewable energy technology. The first phase of the park would be about 40 acres and a place for people to learn about the various ways such energy can be used. It is a privately funded collaboration among several energy companies, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering at UNLV and Great Basin Permaculture.

Palmer attended a July 3 event at Clark where students presented their ideas in small-scale models.

“The thing that really surprised me is how kids had really given a lot of thought to playground activities that could be used to present renewable energy concepts as kids play,” Palmer said. “They had taken it much further than I ever expected. I had no idea how bright these kids were.”

Some ideas included a basketball court that creates energy from the motion of the ball bouncing and the kids running on it; shade structures with solar panels; stationary bikes that could be pedaled to create energy and more. One group even programmed a computer model of its park that could be virtually navigated.

Another solar park collaborator, John Balfour, president of solar energy company High Performance PV, also was impressed by the students’ ideas.

“I was amazed, and I’m not often amazed,” Balfour said. “I was amazed at their perceptiveness in treating the issues that were raised in an intelligent and potentially usable manner. We took notes, and some of those notes that came from those kids’ projects you’ll see in the park.”

Henderson resident Rhonda Tracy said her son, Kyle, at first was not happy about his summer being interrupted with more school.

“The first two days, he was hating me,” Tracy said. “By the third day, he was happy to go. He’s loved this class. It’s the only place he’s ever felt challenged.”

Carriero said she has been asked to teach the academy again next summer and plans to do so. That the students give up part of their summer break to continue learning inspires her to do the same thing, she said.

“I think it says a lot about their character. They challenge themselves; they want to learn; they’re curious.”

Boulder City Community Development Director Brok Armantrout said Tuesday the city thinks the project is a “great idea,” but it still needs City Council approval.

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