Elementary school students digging in a garden

To continue the focus on energy conservation throughout Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS), the PWCS Energy and Sustainability team hosts the Energy Challenge each year. Students and staff, whether working as individuals, classes, clubs, or teams, are encouraged to help grow the culture of sustainability in the division by completing a certain number of energy-saving tasks. Registered participants also qualify and can earn a $1,800 rebate.

During the 2020-21 school year, 68 schools received this rebate based on their participation, and they were encouraged to use these funds to further their own sustainability efforts. The Green Team at Neabsco Elementary School, for example, used their funds from this past school year to build six raised garden beds, or "grade gardens," in their central courtyard.

"Prior to [the pandemic], we had the students do a biodiversity audit at the school grounds, and they found we had very little plant diversity," said Mary Wang, English for speakers of other languages teacher and sustainability coordinator at Neabsco Elementary. "There wasn't anything to attract birds or any type of pollinators, so that became our first goal."

With one garden designated per grade level, the hope is that students and staff will turn their maintenance of these gardens into learning opportunities. Students will learn about the components of the garden, such as the compost and perennials, while practicing different types of responsibility.

"Neabsco Elementary School is really big on integrative learning. I also believe that an experience today provides inspiration tomorrow," said Wang. "We're always looking for ways to teach kids life skills and life responsibility. Their work can remain constructive while doing so like pulling weeds or watering plants."

As the gardens continue to grow, the Green Team hopes that more learning opportunities will grow with it. There are plans for more projects within the courtyard, such as having the gardens also function as sensory beds for students with autism, and they do seem possible, thanks to the start from the Energy Challenge.

"We would love [our sustainability projects] to become a community thing," said Wang "There's not answers to everything yet, so we think this has been and is a great way to bring everyone together."

Specific details regarding the Energy Challenge for the 2021-22 school year are forthcoming. Updates will be posted to the Energy Challenge webpage.

Schools that received the Energy Challenge rebates for the 2020-21 school year:

  • Alvey Elementary School
  • Battlefield High School
  • Bel Air Elementary School
  • Belmont Elementary School
  • Benton Middle School
  • Brentsville High School
  • Bristow Run Elementary School
  • Buckland Mills Elementary School
  • Bull Run Middle School
  • Cedar Point Elementary School
  • Chris Yung Elementary School
  • Coles Elementary School
  • Charles J. Colgan High School
  • Covington-Harper Elementary School
  • Ellis Elementary School
  • Enterprise Elementary School
  • Featherstone Elementary School
  • Fitzgerald Elementary School
  • Forest Park High School
  • Fred M. Lynn Middle School
  • Freedom High School
  • Gainesville Middle School
  • Gar-Field High School
  • Glenkirk Elementary School
  • Graham Park Middle School
  • Gravely Elementary School
  • Hampton Middle School
  • Haymarket Elementary School
  • Henderson Elementary School
  • C.D. Hylton High School
  • Independence Nontraditional School
  • Jenkins Elementary School
  • Kerrydale Elementary School
  • Kilby Elementary School
  • Kyle R. Wilson Elementary School
  • Lake Ridge Middle School
  • Loch Lomond Elementary School
  • Marshall Elementary School
  • Marsteller Middle School
  • Marumsco Hills Elementary School
  • Mary Williams Elementary School
  • McAuliffe Elementary School
  • Minnieville Elementary School
  • Mountain View Elementary School
  • Mullen Elementary School
  • Neabsco Elementary School
  • Occoquan Elementary School
  • Parkside Middle School
  • Patriot High School
  • Pattie Elementary School
  • Pennington Traditional School
  • Piney Branch Elementary School
  • Potomac View Elementary School
  • River Oaks Elementary School
  • Rockledge Elementary School
  • Rosa Parks Elementary School
  • Sinclair Elementary School
  • Springwoods Elementary School
  • Sudley Elementary School
  • T. Clay Wood Elementary School
  • Triangle Elementary School
  • Tyler Elementary School
  • Unity Braxton Middle School
  • Unity Reed High School
  • Victory Elementary School
  • Woodbridge High School
  • Woodbridge Middle School
  • Yorkshire Elementary School