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During an economic downturn, it’s always a struggle for recent college graduates to find jobs and a place to put down roots amid a tightening workforce. Fortunately for students who visit the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center in Girard — known as Greenbush to locals — a project called Wind for Schools has set up shop. The vocational school in Girard, where students visit on field trips from their regular schools, now offers education and training programs focused on public outreach for wind energy technology. 

Targeting students in elementary school through college, participants in Wind for Schools projects will get a leg up on the competition when competing for green jobs when they graduate. Students in this program gain not only practical knowledge in wind turbine technologies, but also they get hands-on experience installing turbines statewide.

“I definitely would enjoy a job working with wind turbines for lots of reasons,” one 17-year-old program participant says. “I like to climb and be outside. And I want to have a good job that is going to be there for lots of years.” 

Since 2007, six wind turbines have been whirling next to schools across Kansas, installed by Wind for Schools.

Local community members are glad to have new technology spurring job creation in Kansas, Josh Cochran, a science teacher and the Greenbush Observatory director says. Folks in the area tell Josh that they want to see revenue brought in for the state, especially in the form of long-lasting jobs in the clean energy sector that provide a much-needed boost to the economy.

“No one knows the full extent of human impact on the environment, but we do know we need to do the best we can to preserve this seemingly fragile scenario we have inherited on our little rock going around the sun,” he says. “Wind energy can certainly be a step in the right direction. What will keep us from handing over a bleak situation to our children and grandchildren is a change in behavior and attitude on our own part concerning energy and our environment.”

One 13-year-old student visiting Greenbush is excited to learn more about wind energy and its potential in Kansas. One of the greatest things to him about his new potential for working in wind energy is that it “would be a job where I could make pretty good money,” he says. “Also, wind energy is going to be more important in the future, and I want to have a good job for a long time.” 

As the United States moves toward more renewable domestic energy sources, the rapidly growing wind industry faces two challenges — a critical need for skilled workers trained in wind energy technology, and the need for readily available public information to address people’s concerns on the impacts of wind energy development. Wind for Schools is working to tackle both of those challenges. And with five more wind turbines planned for the 2009-2010 school year, more students and communities than ever will be exposed to the clean-energy benefits of wind power technology. 

Kansas recently reached the 1,000-megawatt mark for wind power, which has helped to stimulate rural economies while providing electricity from clean, renewable sources. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have determined that 1,000 megawatts of new wind development in Kansas would result in 252 long-term local jobs directly relating to the operation of the wind facilities and add $21.2 million per year to local economies.

The Wind for Schools project is sponsored by Wind Powering America, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative.