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Solar energy comes to the classroom at McKinley STEMM Academy in west Toledo

Recently, the school received a solar panel called the Green Energy Machine after winning the Ohio STEM Learning Network Engineering Design Challenge.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The countdown to Christmas is on and one local school is using its Christmas tree to learn more about how the sunlight can create energy.

The students at McKinley STEMM Academy in west Toledo are taking the things they learn every day in books and putting them into modern-day hands-on practice.

"Usually it's the students who are dictating which direction we are going and they're pursuing their own solutions. So it's really them taking control of their own learning," said teacher Andrea Bennett.

Recently, the school received a solar panel called the Green Energy Machine (G.E.M.) after winning the Ohio STEM Learning Network Engineering Design Challenge.

Bennett says seventh- and eighth-grade students competed with schools throughout the state to find and create a cost-effective solution to a real problem.

The students partnered with Yarder Manufacturing and First Solar Energy to create an energy solution to help cool Yarder’s manufacturing plant from the heat. 

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"It was a big accomplishment. I didn't think we were going to get as far as we did and it was definitely a big surprise," said student, McKenzy Lounsbury.

The G.E.M. solar panel, which typically costs around $50,000, according to school officials, is now being used to make the holidays bright when students enter the building.

The G.E.M generates electricity to illuminate the LED lights that are on the tree.

"We have a sunroof type thing and the solar panel sits under that and collects the sun and now works the Christmas tree that we have in our main lobby," said Lounsbury.

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The students who were part of the project, now get to see their hard work in action. They say they now feel like they understand how solar power works.

"I actually felt good about it because it helped me get it more and observe it more instead of learning out of a book," said student Jade Latson.

McKenzy Lounsbury agreed.

"You're actually doing something hands-on, in real life. So it makes you learn better because you're not just reading it, you're actually doing it," said Lounsbury.

School officials say after the Christmas break, the solar panel will move throughout the school for teachers to use in lesson plans.

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