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Jon Balcerzak and Chris Maiolo found themselves in the new Green Energy Management program at Penta Career Center for different reasons.
Jon, 16, liked the idea of an earth-friendly career that would help make a difference in the world. Chris, 17, is more of a hands-on guy, who first considered trades such as construction or manufacturing before signing up.
Both teens are among 13 students in the program's first class at Penta, sharing the same enthusiasm and lab table. The Anthony Wayne High School students now finish each other's sentences when the conversation drifts to environmental matters.
"People are getting concerned about gas prices and pollution. We know what we're using now won't be able to be replenished," Jon said. "Now there's a push for something that won't destroy the world."
Chris added: "Everything is new. This is a new frontier."
Penta's Green Energy Management program is among the first educational programs in Ohio to guide high school students into environmental careers. The program is especially significant in northwest Ohio - where the "green energy" buzz has been hailed as salvation for an area that has lost thousands of good-paying automotive and manufacturing jobs.
The lab-based program will show students how energy is derived from sustainable sources such as water, solar, and wind.
The first-year curriculum includes aspects of chemistry, physics, marketing, and business management. The second-year curriculum is still in the works, but students will be prepared to become LEED-certified, or experts in environmentally-friendly building standards suggested by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
Students will have the opportunity to work with a hydrogen fuel cell, which injects an electrical charge into water as it passes through metal plates. The charge separates water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, creating a cleaner-burning fuel that can power an engine for twice as long as gasoline.
This year, the capstone project will allow students to use the school's geothermal camera to analyze where heat is escaping from their own homes and how to increase energy efficiency.
The curriculum will also allow students to explore the various career opportunities under the umbrella of "green energy," instructor Vicki Miller said.
Ms. Miller spent nearly a decade as an electrical engineer in Findlay before becoming an educator in Toledo Public Schools.
She joined Penta this year and said she is excited about the diverse interests of the students in her classroom.
"Some want to get into engineering, some want to become installers, some want to be technicians working on the equipment," Ms. Miller said. "The goal is to supply the kids with the knowledge to do what they want to do in the field."
The educators that created the program at Penta will soon help the Ohio Department of Education write statewide green curriculum, said Jim Henline, program director and agriculture supervisor at Penta.
What makes Penta a good model for other high schools is the green energy program's broad curriculum, he said.
"This is so new, and one of the problems that we want to avoid is to have our focus too narrow," Mr. Henline said. "Because we don't know where this is going in the next 10 years. What will be the ultimate energy of the future? Will it be solar? Will it be wind? Will it be thermal? We're trying to figure it out."