After almost two years of campaigning for funds to install solar panels on MAST Academy’s soccer field, Key Biscayne’s Village Council officially voted to allocate $40,000 for the project.
Though the school is in Virginia Key – part of the City of Miami – Key Biscayne pays for the electricity for the field and an accompanying shelter as part of an agreement that allows the island’s residents to use it on nights and weekends. City officials noted the panels will reduce that cost.
According to MAST’s Green Champions – a parent and student group – the larger goal is to have the school become the first zero-net-energy school in South Florida. The term means the amount of energy a facility uses is less than or equal to the amount it produces via renewable sources.
To achieve this, they have created a five-year sustainability plan that involves waste reduction, water conservation, and energy efficiency for both the school and its soccer field.
The total cost of the larger goal is estimated to be about $1 million, said Michele Drucker, the chair of the school’s sustainability board.
Rebeca Virgil, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, said it is all about the small victories.
“In some ways, that is how you stand out, it is a lot,” she said of the Oct. 29 vote. “It is a grind, a good grind, where you see things coming to fruition.”
According to Drucker, the school used to have solar panels powering a pond, but these had to be torn down several years ago to make room for the construction of the school’s new building. The panels were removed with the intention to put them back, but the plans never materialized.
It wasn’t until Delaney Reynolds, founder of the Sink or Swim Project, came to speak to students about rising global sea levels back in 2017 that things were set in motion.
“She [Reynolds] talked to the kids about the coming impacts of sea-level rise,” Drucker said. “And they spontaneously voted to become a zero net energy school. That’s when the idea of zero net energy took hold.”
She said parents became involved shortly after that.
“It became this very ambitious initiative because the kids asked about it,” Drucker said.
Pedro Balabuch Dal Bo, a senior at MAST, says that Reynolds’ presentation helped the project gain traction in the school.
“When she said that, she brought attention,” Dal Bo said. “It created an awareness, and we kind of went with that.”
Since then, the achievements were recognized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as part of the Green School Designation Program. In 2017, MAST became a Green Apple School, and this year, MAST was named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Monica Larriva, a parent at the school and Key Biscayne resident, said that the students are learning a lot about politics and how things get done in their community.
“It has been a very tight budget year,” Larriva said, nothing they had to cut their original ask in half. “ So, they actually walked into one of the most difficult budget workshops there has been in the past few years. You can feel the momentum.”
She said that the hope is to inspire the younger students to continue the work toward the school’s net-zero energy goal.
Ana Cecilia Balabuch Dal Bo and Luciana Valdovinos, two eighth-graders from MAST, said they learned in class that the average American uses about as much energy as approximately 61 people in India. They say that other countries will be more willing to adopt “green” practices if they see Americans doing it as well.
“If a public school can do it, then everyone can do it,” Dal Bo said. “And even more, everyone should do it.”