Photography provided by HSE Schools

Bob Rice, Energy Manager for the Hamilton Southeastern Schools, is pleased with the school’s partnership with Ameresco, an energy service company, to construct two solar arrays.

The arrays will provide renewable energy to Sand Creek Elementary, Sand Creek Intermediate and Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate and Junior High schools. 

Rice, who started teaching for the Hamilton Southeastern School District in 2010 at Hamilton Southeastern High School, likes the financial savings and educational opportunities the solar arrays provide. 

“A solar array is a collection of multiple solar panels that generate electricity as a system,” Rice says. “Our arrays will offset a significant amount of power we use at Sand Creek Elementary, Sand Creek Intermediate and Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate and Junior High. Instead of spending more than $300,000 per year to purchase energy from Duke Energy for these schools, we will harness the power of the sun to produce that energy on our own.”

Rice noted that Ameresco is currently finishing up some low voltage wiring for the arrays. 

“That should be completed within two weeks,” Rice says. “Then they will start the work of commissioning the system. If all goes as planned, we should start producing our own energy by (October).” 

Rice adds that schools with solar arrays are becoming more common.

“What is innovative about our plan is how we are using the arrays not only to reduce utility costs and lessen our carbon footprint, we are also including the arrays in our curriculum as well,” Rice says. “Teachers from Kindergarten through 12th grade, from science to humanities, have contacted me asking to collaborate with them to incorporate the arrays into their classrooms. This holistic approach to facilities and curriculum is what I believe makes this an innovative approach to solar.”

Rice, who enjoys teaching, was with Hamilton Southeastern High School from 2010 to 2015 before being hired as the energy manager in 2017.

Rice’s favorite class that he taught was Advanced Placement Environmental Science.

“When I was a science teacher in the district, I was able to educate and impact the students in my classroom and school on issues like energy, environment and sustainability,” Rice says. “In my current role as energy manager, my reach has expanded and now I am able to impact every student in our district.

“It is my hope that these arrays will be a beacon, one could even say a bright light, that will inspire our 22,000 students to think about our impact on the planet,” he adds. “These arrays will increase their awareness of STEM and sustainability careers and foster the next generation of scientists and environmentalists. I am excited to see how the arrays are energizing our students to understand how electricity plays a role in their life. I am excited to work for a school corporation that is being a good steward of the environment.” 

Teachers across the district will use the arrays as examples when educating students about energy source, carbon footprint, electricity, and sustainability. Using of a personal carbon calculator will be taught via

“This was a passion project of mine, and I am very excited to see it materialize,” Rice says. “It took the support of my boss, the superintendent, our school board, Jennifer Suskovich (a sixth-grade science teacher at Sand Creek Intermediate), Abigail Kemper (student) and numerous others to make this happen.”

In addition to having the arrays, Ameresco has provided Hamilton Southeastern with $10,000 to be used toward teacher training, two solar power wagons that can travel to any school in the district, and solar and energy lesson plans, according to Rice. 

In order to have a positive influence on an ever-changing world community, Hamilton Southeastern solar arrays are predicted to reduce their carbon footprint by more than 2,400 metric tons of CO2 per year.

Jennifer Suskovich, a sixth-grade science teacher for Sand Creek Intermediate School, had a previous class (the class of 2017-18), that put together one of the school’s solar panel kits with grant money.  

“We have come a long way since then,” Suskovich says. “Later that year, my class made small scale solar tracker models to investigate how movable solar panels can follow the sun and reduce the amount of charge time. My 2018-19 class recorded and graphed the amount of time we were able to power the light kits in the classroom with energy from the sun. Abigail Kemper, a student from the 2017-18 class,  continued her studies of the solar tracker system, and built a manual moving model that used the seasonal angles of the sun in Indiana.” 

Kemper entered her project into the seventh-grade science fair at Fishers Junior High and placed in the top 10, which qualified her to attend the regional competition.

“At the same time, I had transportation bringing Abigail back to Sand Creek Intermediate on Tuesdays to Fridays to build four more stands with my learning club students,” Suskovich says.

Abigail entered the Regional Science Fair Competition on Saturday, March 2, 2019. She won the Air Force Outstanding Engineering Project Award, first place in seventh grade, and placed first in the Junior Division, which qualified her to move on to the state competition.

The Indiana Science Fair State Competition took place on Saturday, March 30. At the competition, she won the Lemelson Early Inventor Prize, the Indiana Association of Environmental Professionals Award for Excellence in Environmental Science, and the Best Engineering Project by a female from the Society of Women Engineers. She also placed second overall in seventh grade and took home a $650 prize.

At the Indiana State Museum Eco-Science Fair, she was awarded $3,000 for Fishers Junior High from the Subaru Stars Program.

Suskovich has enjoyed seeing the project evolve. 

“I love that the district provides transportation for former students to return to Sand Creek Intermediate to design and collaborate with current students on this project,” she says. “Our solar project spans across grade levels creating long-term interest and passion with students.”

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