Digital signs are nothing new for area schools -- but Robert Morris Elementary, at 80 Union St. in Batavia, is the first school in the Genesee Valley to have a solar-powered digital sign, which was unveiled last month.
The new 3x8 sign, which shares important information with the school community, is fully powered by the sun's energy, collected and converted into electricity by solar panels on the school's roof.
This environmentally friendly and money-saving technology allows the sign to store energy and stay powered up even at night and in overcast weather.
The sign is part of Robert Morris' "Going Green" project, which is being coordinated by the all-volunteer parent group FORM (Friends of Robert Morris).
The "green" project, in turn, is part of the school's committment to educating students and keeping them informed about renewable energy and environmentally responsible technology.
As the current school year drew to a close, Principal Diane Bonarigo went to each of the classrooms and explained the new solar sign to students -- including how it would turn the sun's energy into electricity, etc.
"Our students are very excited about learning how solar energy is powering this sign," Bonarigo said in a news release. "(It) will engage (them) for years to come."
FORM co-chair Roseann Quinn said that they would like to focus more intensely on "green" education in September. She mentioned the possibility of having professionals come in and speak to the kids about different renewable energy technologies, as well as basic education in the classrooms.
"Now with the solar sign, the kids have something they can see and touch (to go along with lessons)," Quinn said.
Quinn also said that FORM and Bonarigo would like to put the students in charge of the sign when the next school year starts. Right now, Bonarigo controls what words appear on the sign from her laptop computer; in September, they hope to give the kids more input into the way words appear and change.
At Robert Morris, going green also involves lots of landscape planting on school grounds. Here are some pictures of new trees and bushes that have been put in already:
FORM chair Lorie Reinhart came up with the idea for this project early in the 2008-2009 school year after looking online and reading about an education grant offered by Lowe's.
"We wanted to do something different," Quinn said. "We wanted to actually try to do something that a lot of schools talk about but never get around to doing."
Reinhart and Quinn wrote the grant proposal along with co-secretary Michelle Turnbull. In response to FORM's request, Lowe's granted the school $5,000 for the solar sign.
The project also received funding from the New York State Power Authority -- which was unprecedented, since NYSPA does not, as a rule, give money to schools. But the NYSPA president was so intrigued by the idea that he contributed $5,000 to the project.
Seven or eight local businesses also donated money to the purchase of the sign. Quinn said that the total cost came to about $18,000.
In addition to being a valuable educational venture, Quinn sees the construction of the sign as a grassroots effort to promote renewable energy, which she calls "the way of the future."
FORM wanted to make this as locally focused an effort as possible. The sign was produced by LeRoy-based Unitech Applications, in collaboration with XPress Signs and Agile Displays.
If you would like more information on the solar-powered digital sign or the "Going Green" project, see the FORM webpage for contact information.