Construction Has Begun on TOHS's Sustainable Outdoor Learning Environment
Thousand Oaks High School and Schneider Electric have begun construction on a first-of-its-kind Sustainable Outdoor Learning Environment (SOLE), a solar-powered outdoor classroom that is fully equipped to move indoor learning outside without sacrificing the necessary resources to teach or the comfort of students. The SOLE harnesses and stores energy using solar panels and battery storage, making it a self-sufficient learning environment with no additional costs to the Conejo Valley Unified School District. As districts of all sizes are looking for innovative ways to meet health regulations in order safely open and remain open, a SOLE may offer an avenue to energy efficiency and student engagement.
The SOLE will provide a safe, new alternative to traditional classrooms by removing walls and windows to optimize ventilation and improve air quality while creating a sustainable, dynamic learning experience for students. The interactive environment complements activities such as STEM coursework, specialized program instruction, group collaboration and day or evening events.
“Our community trusts us to keep our students safe while also providing them with the tools they need to be successful,” said Thousand Oaks High School Principal Eric Bergmann. “Schneider Electric has been a trusted partner throughout our infrastructure project, helping modernize our buildings and create optimal learning environments. As we turned to out-of-the-box thinking to meet new health regulations, Schneider Electric helped us find a creative way to not only meet those regulations but develop an asset to the campus that our students will enjoy. This new project shows that we can create dynamic environments with both education and safety in mind. The cutting-edge SOLE is one more way we are fulfilling our mission to provide our students with quality educational experiences.”
The SOLE will consist of sustainable technologies that will both power the facility and integrate further sustainable elements into the campus:
● Solar Rooftop: The SOLE will continuously produce energy throughout the day harnessing solar power.
● Battery Storage: This provides the school with renewable power that is not directly connected to the grid and can be optimized during hours of activity.
● Energy Efficient Outdoor Circulating Fans: These will enable better air circulation and can also be reversed on hot days to pull the hot air out of the learning zone.
● LED Lighting: The solar panels allow LED lighting to run during both day and night.
● Durable Outdoor Classroom Furniture: Specially designed furniture that is mobile and stackable for ease of set-up and storage.
“Collaborating with Thousand Oaks on this SOLE project has shown us how imaginative we can get when we’re thinking of sustainable ways to improve learning,” said Marc Starkey, Business Development Executive, Schneider Electric. “This learning environment will not only have a positive impact on students from the Thousand Oaks area but can also provide a template for what’s possible for other communities looking to bring their students back to school safely.”
To bring its vision for the Thousand Oaks SOLE to life, Schneider Electric brought together a consortium of experts across disciplines. Partners MBarC, Flexground, Baker Electric, Meteor Education and Rexel USA were integral in making the SOLE a best-in-class learning environment.
"This has been my passion for the last few years trying to make this dream (bringing a SOLE to TOHS) a reality," said Heather Farrell, Thousand Oaks High School educator of AP Environmental, CP Environmental Earth Science and Environmental Club Advisor. Mrs. Farrell played an instrumental role in researching the SOLE and working with Schneider Electric over the last few years, to bring this unique outdoor learning environment to the TOHS campus, the first school to have one.
The SOLE will be available to all classes on TOHS's campus through a sign-up system.
"Students more than ever need the opportunity to get outside and engage with nature. It is also a great opportunity for the AP Environmental Science classes to be able to work inside a fully sustainable green structure and be able to see it in action, bringing class discussions to reality," said Mrs. Farrell. "As this SOLE becomes reality in 2021 it will bring a little sprinkle of sunshine to our campus at TOHS."
The SOLE construction will be completed in early 2021 and will serve as a model to other districts in taking the next step forward in healthy environments, STEM opportunities and sustainability. As more stimulus funding becomes available, including the recently signed Assembly Bill 841, now is the optimal time to implement outdoor learning environments for the use, safety and enjoyment of students for years to come.