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Photo submitted Stevie Butler, Josh Reeder, Trevor Myers, Trevor Ledesma and Justin Hanning mount optimizers that will increase solar production at DHS by over 15 percent.
Photo by Pat Sunderland Service learning is a major component of the JROTC program at Delta High School. These cadets are working with ag and science students to create an outdoor learning center and beautify the area around a once-stagnant pond.

Ag, science, JROTC students pitch in to beautify DHS campus

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Ag, science and JROTC students are combining their efforts to beautify the campus of Delta High School. Along the way, they're learning new skills, discovering career possibilities, and applying their math lessons to real-life problems.

Progress can be monitored from Pioneer Road. Those passing by may have seen students positioning rocks around the once-stagnant pond. The water that fills that pond is runoff from practice fields, the parking lot and perhaps even the school roof.

To facilitate drainage, JROTC cadets constructed a "rock river" with curved concrete along the edge. Every rock was separately lifted into place, and the concrete was mixed and poured by the students. They continued placing rocks around the edge of the pond, to eliminate the mud they used to track into their classroom.

At a service learning briefing, Col. Matt Clark explained the pond has long been used as an obstacle by cadets, who have learned teamwork and leadership by ferrying each other across the water using a rope bridge. Some cadets have fallen into the pond, and there have been some intentional dunkings, but even those who stay dry come away with mud-covered boots. So they have planned landing docks, to keep them away from the muddy edges of the pond. "If we reduce the mud on our shoes, that will make the janitors extremely happy, so there's multiple benefits to all of this," Col. Clark said.

The rock-lined bank and the landing docks will also make it easier for biology students to pull water samples. The JROTC cadets designed the docks so they extend out a few feet from the water's edge.

During construction, students have learned how to use tools -- including a basic shovel -- safely and efficiently.

Logistics are also critical, as the cadet battalion leadership class determines how to make arrangements for large boulders to be delivered to the site. The Colorado Department of Transportation donated the extremely large boulders to the project; the only catch is, the school has to arrange transportation from CDOT's Cedaredge shop. The leadership class is working out arrangements with the Montrose unit of the National Guard, which has the equipment to get the job done. Cadets are also figuring out how to move some smaller rocks donated by private property owners.

The ag class is working hard to complete a gazebo/pergola before the end of the school year. All the students involved in the project took a field trip to Delta Metals south of Delta to discuss their plans with designer Mike Lahoe. He took their rough sketch and with a computer program, came up with job specifications and a materials list. Students got a firsthand look at job opportunities in the construction industry, and Delta Metals ended up donating the trusses for the project.

When completed, the 10x15-foot shade structure will provide seating and USB charger ports powered by rooftop solar panels.

A larger solar array is nearing the final stages of installation. The eight panels will provide up to 2.8Kw for the science building at DHS, which will reduce reliance on the electric grid. Eventually, the students in Ben Graves' science class will have an opportunity to gain solar installation technician certification through a collaborative program with Solar Energy International.

Graves also works with the biology students who have plans to beautify the area around the pond and improve the habitat for fish, minnows, frogs, crayfish and plant life.

As part of their research, they looked for solutions to the algae that blooms in the pond every year. They decided on an aerator powered by a small solar array. From there, the idea grew into the larger solar array that will be enclosed in a chainlink fence when it's completed. A NOAA Planet Stewardship Grant funded most of the capital cost. The Colorado Education Initiative, which provides money for some AP programs at DHS, kicked in to help finish off the capital costs. The school district did the trenching and machinery work, and 50J electrician John Doran, now retired, offered his expertise. SEI has provided ongoing technical advice.

Again, students are learning about possible careers in the electrical and solar fields. "It's an exciting time," said Graves. "Delta is one of the sunniest places in the state, and I think we're going to see a lot of development in the solar industry."

Even if students don't pursue careers in the solar, electrical or construction trades, they're picking up skills that can be used on the farm or at home.

With just a couple of weeks of school left, the focus now is on handing the beautification project off to underclassmen. "We hope we end at a good spot this school year," said Melanie Osteen, a senior, "so our classmates can pick up where we left off."

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