Desert View Elementary students create nature center, solar-powered pond

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The sound of bubbling water doesn't fit with the dry llano of eastern Valencia County, but the refreshing resonance greets your ears at the Desert View Elementary School nature center.

The center can now boast a solar-powered pond, thanks to a $2,000 grant from PNM and the efforts of teacher Cheri Montoya.

Montoya pursued the energy grant with a research group formed from seven of her third grade students, Aracely Flores-Ramirez, Mario Chavira, Miranda Duran, Ivan Saenz, Christopher Benavidez, Alegra Scarborough and Chloe Cruz.

"We wanted to get the pond so wildlife and other animals, like insects, can come and drink," said Mario Chavira.

The teacher has been scouting around for grant money to continue to build the nature center she started last year to help beautify school grounds and give students an intimate experience with the ecology of their region.

She started with a couple of grants from the Keep New Mexico Beautiful organization to purchase plant materials and water recycling supplies.

This year, she was very grateful to receive money from the utilities company, she said.

"They call them Explorations in Energy grants, and you ask a science question," said Montoya. "They award you the funding to study that."

Her team wanted to find out how they could power a water pump for a pond, and did a lot of research, usually after school.

"We looked up solar energy and decided if we were going to use a solar panel or a windmill," said student Ivan Saenz. "So we looked it up to see which one would work better, and found out the solar panel, because there's not enough wind to circulate the water."

"When you use solar panels, it works much better because we get more sun," said student Alegra Scarborough.

The students were taken on a trip to Los Lunas High School to see its photovoltaic panels.

"And there was somebody named Mr. S (physics teacher Geno Santistevan), who showed us that their solar panels are big and can save more energy," said Christopher Benavidez.

"We learned that the bigger the solar panel, the more energy," added Miranda Duran.

The small pond was installed by C & P Statuary in Bosque Farms, and the small solar panel — about two feet wide and about two inches thick — is very sensitive, Montoya said.

The electrical wiring to the water pump is underground.

"We're using the same water over and over again," Saenz said.

Montoya emphasizes environmental studies in her classroom.

"We talk about the local animals, and the local environment," she said.

The nature center affords visual and hands-on learning for the entire school, and each classroom rotates weekly to do the simple maintenance chores.

"It has been a really good learning experience about alternative energy for the students," Montoya said. "They are actually seeing it in use … I think it's good that it's out there for the community to see alternative energy in use."

So far, the pond has been visited by lizards, birds, wasps and other insects, but more wildlife will come in time, Montoya said.

"The nature center is just really making a difference in our school community," she said. "The trees are all growing so well. It's becoming such a pretty place just to sit."


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.