Colt voltage

Wooster High School leads the charge in energy tech, aquaponics and more

Johana Sandoval, left, Ivette Murillo and Adriana Cerda assemble circuitry in an energy-tech class.

Johana Sandoval, left, Ivette Murillo and Adriana Cerda assemble circuitry in an energy-tech class.


The most striking thing about Wooster High School’s work as a sustainable campus may be the fact that it’s all pretty basic to students and staff. Aquaponics and hydroponics? Check. Solar panels? Sure. A microgreens lab? Yeah, they’ve had one for a while. Now students are discussing a program that will help them monitor and reduce power consumption campus-wide. They’ve also eschewed bottled water in favor of reusable containers and a filtration system that digitally tracks how much trash they’re sparing from the landfill.

“Oh, it’s so cool,” exclaimed junior Ivette Murillo, who’s studying energy technology. “Have you seen it? It shows how many plastic water bottles we’ve saved. Before, I’d buy a water bottle, and now I’m like, ’I’m just going to go fill mine up there.’”

Last year, Murillo and classmates Adriana Cerda and Johana Sandoval built wind and water turbines and used solar energy to make s’mores. Sandoval, a senior, also helped construct a new aquaponic system—one every student in her class helped with, she explained, “so nobody was left behind.”

Wooster focuses on energy technology, entrepreneurship and photography, and attempts to tie those subjects together in a real-world sense. (Human development and ROTC are also part of the school’s career-tech program, but they’re new curricula and not yet as interrelated.) Like every standard Washoe County high school, this one’s part of the Signature Academy system—the basis for state certification programs such as Hug High’s health-sciences track, and the Red House digital production suite at Reno High.

The energy-tech component “is very new,” said teacher Dustin Coli. “And it’s very exciting, with all the companies coming here that are involved with energy,” such as Tesla and Solar City.

Coli’s students begin with an overview of electricity and other energy sources. “We still teach about fossil fuel, because it’s still very important to the country both in good ways and bad ways,” he said, but it’s discussed in the context of alternatives such as solar power, hydroelectricity and wind. Upperclassmen learn about circuitry, and “how we can use different sources of energy to generate electricity, and really try to develop the skills and knowledge for students to innovate and become leaders in our energy future.”

Wooster’s cash crop, microgreens, stands to benefit.

“Our energy classes are helping to grow the greens, our entrepreneurship strand is selling the greens, and our photography classes are taking the pictures to sell [the greens],” said International Baccalaureate counselor Erin Danielsen.

The school’s sustainable resources academy, as it’s sometimes called, began with student members of the Wooster High Environmental Action Team (WHEAT). Around the time the Desert Research Institute selected her as a silver-medal winner, crop-genetics researcher Nina Fedoroff visited campus, then called principal Leah Keuscher with a $10,000 pledge for the hydroponics lab.

“Energy technology has a lot to do with it,” said Keuscher, pausing for a second to point at solar panels atop the gym, “but what it also is, is food, and how you’re going to be able to sustain the masses.”