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Ventura County Home To Classroom Of The Future: Sustainable Solar Powered Outdoor Teaching Space Without Walls

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(KCLU photo)
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The SOLE outdoor teaching space is solar powered, and uses a storage battery to operate completely off the power grid

Solar panels and storage batteries allow the space to operate completely off the grid.

Thousand Oaks High School Science Teacher Heather Ferrell is standing in front of an electronic version of what for many years was a chalkboard. Farrell is in the high school’s newest classroom. But, it really isn’t a room.

It’s a cutting edge, one of a kind solar powered, off the grid sustainable outdoor teaching space.

Marc Starkey is a Program Manager for Schneider Electric. The sustainable energy company built the class area, which is known as “SOLE.”

It’s packed with technology. There’s the solar panels on top of what looks like a huge carport. There’s a ceiling fan underneath, too help keep things cool on warm days. There’s a large cabinet with a storage battery, and other technology. The furniture is all lightweight plastics, which can easily be moved or stacked by students, to make the space flexible. And, instead of a hard floor, there’s a water-resistant rubberized surface.

The project has been in the planning stages for five years. In a unique partnership, the company agreed to design, and build the roughly $250,000 project for the Conejo Valley Unified School District for free. The company brought in other experts to help. In exchange, they can use it as a model for school districts interested in building similar spaces.

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The SOLE teaching space fetures a high tech electronic version of a school white board

Ironically, while this project was in development long before the COVID-19 crisis, it provides an ideal platform for holding socially distanced outdoor classes.

Carolyn Barker is one of a handful of Thousand Oaks High School students who are among the first to try the learning space. She says the fact that it’s open, and outdoors provides a more stimulating educational atmosphere than a traditional classroom.

Thousand Oaks High School Principal Dr. Eric Bergman says it provides more than a class space. He says it’s also a living example of how sustainability works.

Bergman says he sees a wide range of classes taking advantage of the outdoor space, from science to art and English programs.

This unique project in the Conejo Valley could be a popular new alternative for classes at the high school. And, it could be in effect serve like a “model home” for a new type of learning space for school campuses around the country.