Even before Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato Si’ in 2015, a Catholic college nestled in the picturesque region of South East South Australia was well on the path of ecological conversion.
Spurred on by namesake Fr Julian Tenison Woods, who saw the links between the environment, faith and education, and progressive principal David Mezinec, the Tenison Woods College community was trying to find ways to ‘care for our common home’.
Over the past five years a raft of initiatives have been woven into the fabric of life at the school, including waste reduction strategies like plastic recycling and industrial composting, a Stephanie Alexandra Kitchen Garden, a productive greenhouse, granular energy and water monitoring. However, one of the most noteworthy has been the innovative Electro Technology Program.
According to the sustainability coordinator Tom Linnell, if everything goes to plan this project will lead to the college being able to go “off the grid” by 2030.
For a school to generate all its own power needs is no easy task but Tom has no doubts that it can be achieved and in the process many Tenison students will gain employment in the renewables industry.
As Tom outlined, in 2018 the college introduced a Certificate II in Electro Technology for students in Year 10. As part of the course, students learn the basic skills for a career in the renewables sector and are taught how to design and install solar panels.
“We wanted to connect sustainability with pathways for young people and it was fortuitous at the time that the school had an educator who was a qualified electrician with a passion for solar,” Tom explained.
“At the same time a member of our parish community joined our employment team and they also had a solar-electrical background.
“It was really good timing and everything started to align.”
Electrical organisations in the wider community have since reached out and offered expertise in specific areas and over the years great partnerships have been formed with international companies such as Vestas Wind and Tindo Solar.
To date 70 students have been involved in the course with many going on to secure employment in the electrical industry.
Besides the bonus of jobs for students, the school now has 100 solar panels online and is generating 30 kilowatts of power. The next chapter for the college will be transiting to a large scale power producer capable of installing up to 200kw of solar. When this process is complete, Tenison will be able to activate another 110 panels already installed by students in the program.
“The panels feed a pretty massive demand that we have here,” Tom said.
“Schools are unique places – when the sun is shining the kids are at school, when the sun is down there are no kids and very minimal power to generate.
“Our goal is that by 2030 through student-led installs we are at a point where we can generate our own power and go off grid.
“Looking progressively, this then leads to batteries and they lead to storage and then power can be shared with the local parish infrastructure. My goal is that our principal is the first in Catholic Education to drive around in an electric car which is charged during the day at the college.”
Tenison’s sustainability programs have received many accolades from the local community, but also on the international stage.
In 2018 it was named a recipient of the United Arab Emirates’ Zayed Future Energy Prize, recognising it as one of 15 schools throughout the world that are global leaders for sustainability.
Last year Tom spent five weeks in the USA on a fellowship with the International Specialised Skills Institute. This saw him visiting a number of leading sustainable schools in the USA and undertaking an intensive course ‘Sustainable Leadership for the 21st Century’ at Harvard University.
Tom said he felt honoured to be involved with one of Catholic Education’s pilot schools for sustainability and living out the vocation described in Laudato Si’ as a ‘protector of God’s handiwork’.
“Father Julian Tenison Woods, was a well-respected geologist, botanist, explorer and educator and he understood the deep links that environment, faith and education played on one another,” Tom said.
“Fr Julian’s attentiveness to God’s creative presence in the world around him led him to understand the interconnectedness of all things. As a college we recognise that everyone has a responsibility to take sustainable action to ensure our local and global resources, environment and climate can adequately support the needs of future generations.
“Young people care about this. Our Pope cares about this. Now the challenge for us is how we position Laudato
Si’ as a means to engage young people in a renewed contemporary Catholic faith and open dialogue about what ecological conversion means to them.”
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