Manhattan Country School energy outlet turns sunny with solar electric installation

Roxbury — In a bid to further increase its sustainability, the Manhattan Country School Farm (MCSF) in Roxbury has garnered a major grant to help install enough solar panels to provide all of its electricity. Rather than go off grid, the rural branch of this progressive, scholarship-based independent school, MCSF is collaborating with its funder, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to link its solar production to the electric grid that supplies power statewide.
“NYSERDA grants require that we be connected to the grid,” says MCSF Director Ginny Scheer, “and we are pleased that our excess electricity will flow back into the supply for state customers, reducing our school’s carbon footprint and adding to the overall amount of power created without fossil fuels.” In return for grid attachment, NYSERDA provides more than half the funds needed to construct the solar array, installed at MCSF by Great Brook Solar NRG out of South New Berlin. “The rest is coming from fund raising, not only by our school’s development office, but by our students themselves,” says Scheer, “that will be supplemented over the years by savings on our electric bill.”
For over 40 years, the Manhattan Country School has worked to raise students’ awareness of the interdependency between humans and their environment. At their school’s farm in Roxbury, MCSF students practice environmentally sustainable living by preparing their own meals from vegetables and animals they have raised, maple syrup they have made, and eggs they have collected. At the farm students were early participants in trash separation and recycling, using alternative sources of energy, and installing energy and water-saving devices throughout the farm’s residence.
And, at present, the farm collaborates with the Watershed Agricultural Council to construct a barnyard and a compost facility to protect NYC drinking water quality.
The farm’s curriculum has kept pace with its environmental practices, focusing on ecological production of food, fuel and fiber since the 1980s while debating local environmental issues such as drinking water reservoirs, pumped-storage projects, wind energy, and mountaintop developments. Says Director Scheer, “Students study an environmental issue all year with Nature Teacher John McDaniel then debate the issue in a mock town meeting in the spring. Since last year, Cathy Cammer, our farm work teacher, has offered classes in renewable energy in which students compare solar and wind energy, and go on field trips where they learn to make bio-diesel fuel and observe the production of grass pellets for heat.”
The renewable energy initiative at MCSF is just part of the curriculum and practices of the school which itself resides on 96th Street in Manhattan. Founded in 1966 to provide a model of racially integrated education with a sliding-scale tuition, Manhattan Country School has grown as a community to focus on gender equity and environmental justice.
Efforts at the farm are matched in the city where teachers are incorporating sustainability into their classroom curricula. Students learn about the critical role that natural resources play in their daily lives by studying the environmental changes affecting various animal species around the world, working in their roof top garden, speaking out about sustainability in their activism projects, and most recently organizing a walk-a-thon that raised almost half of the Manhattan Country School’s contribution for the solar panels at the farm.
“For many years at the beginning of the school,” says Scheer, “we were content with our back-to-the-land philosophy that shed the technologies of our consumer society. We have grown to espouse sophisticated technologies, such as solar energy, that will become widespread but environmentally sound practices in our society in the future.”