The Highline High School Environmental Club does more than just talk about clean energy. The student club members teamed up with mentors and community organizations to hold public video conferences, speak at school board meetings, and secure local support for adding a solar array on the new Highline High School building, opening this fall.
Led by senior Nha Khuc, club members raised $9,000 by July and identified a state grant opportunity from the Department of Commerce that requires a 50 percent match. Staff with the Department of Capital Planning & Construction at Highline Public Schools collaborated with the students to submit a grant application in August for a $367,000 project that will produce 100 kilowatts of energy. The district is seeking other available grants and capital funds while the students continue to fundraise.
“We are committed to working with our amazing student leaders to find a way to install a pilot solar power project on Highline High School,” said Chief of Operations Scott Logan. “Our students are inspiring. They are the future, and the future looks bright!”
The new high school was constructed to be solar ready. Project engineers estimated installation costs and energy production as part of the grant application. Students and organizers will hear later this fall whether they have landed a grant or secured enough funding. Regardless, student leaders have found their voice to change the world, and eventually, get a solar array installed to help produce electricity for the school.
Students created strong partnerships with volunteers at Sustainable Burien, Spark Northwest, and Burien People for Climate Action, as well as school district staff and leaders. They credit their mentors, Elly-Hien Trinh and Jodi Escareño at Sustainable Burien, for advice and assistance in their campaign to raise awareness and funding for solar power at their school.
“I can see the change and growth of students in just one year,” said Trinh. “At the beginning, when we met [over Zoom] they had videos off. Now they have talked to all the big shots. I couldn’t be more proud.”
The students have a message for others who want to start similar projects in their own schools.
“Don’t be afraid. And if you are looking for ways to start projects, look to your local community and nonprofits. There’s a lot of support you can find,” said Ruth Assefa, one of the graduating members of the environmental club.
The baton passes to incoming HHS Environmental Club president Jordan Powers this year, with several club members moving on to college.
“What inspires me about our club is that it’s woman-based at the moment, and that’s empowering,” said Powers. “We have so much involvement from our community, which puts us in more leadership positions. I’m really proud of that.”
Khuc plans to study environmental science at the University of Washington.
“When I started this project, I didn’t know how a project would work. I didn’t even know a lot about solar panels,” said Khuc. “Through this project, I learned not just a lot about solar panels, but also about myself.”
Burien Magazine is highlighting stories of community members seeking solutions and working together to build a climate-resilient and climate-smart Burien.