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Students and staff at P.S. 171 look over the construction of solar panels on the school's roof.

Astoria’s environmentalist Councilman Costa Constantinides began New York City’s climate week by assuring a student at P.S. 171 that she shouldn’t be discouraged about having difficulty in math because when he was a student he struggled in science.

“And now look — I’m the chair of Environmental Protection Committee,” said Constantinides.

The councilman joined with teachers and administrators at P.S. 171 Peter G. Van Alst on Monday to showcase the construction of a solar panel grid capable of powering half of the elementary’s school’s energy consumption per year.

The school is the first of six in the district that will receive solar panels within the next two years. The installation of the green infrastructure will teach students about the impact of renewable energy in addition cutting carbon emissions.

Construction began last month to attach 516 panels onto the 9,000-square-foot rooftop space. The $1.5 million project on P.S. 171 secured the funding from the City Council’s capital budget. 

“We need to prepare our leaders — and our young people are going to be our leaders — to combat climate change as they move along in their school life. They are the ones who are going to have to deal with the effects of rising seas and climate change in general,” Constantinides said.

Max Parrott/QNS

The construction work is slated to finish December, and the panels are expected to be operational by the following spring. Once up and running, the solar panels are estimated to reduce the building’s carbon emissions by 50 metric tons of CO2 per year.

Science teacher Fred Salamone said that he was already formulating plans to use the new equipment in his instruction. He said that his classes were already building solar panels and using them to power tiny motors. He’s also looking forward to expanding his sustainable infrastructure instruction with the use of a grant-funded hydroponic science lab that the school is building as well.

“When [students] come up to me and ask me, ‘Oh Mr. Salamone, why do we do this?’ I’ll come up here and show them is exactly why we do the things we do in the classroom,” Salamone said. 

The Department of Education has worked with environmental groups to make sustainable energy a focal point of its STEM education curriculum. Several city agencies partnered to launch the Solar Schools Education Program, which trains teachers how to incorporate solar infrastructure into their lesson plans.

 “We will enhance our students’ learning of clean energy by providing this real world application to their science knowledge,” said Lisa Stone, principal of P.S. 171. “We are extremely grateful to be working with our councilman to make Astoria a clean energy place to live.”  

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