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Rural Arizona Charter School First in Nation to Be off Electric Grid

One rural Arizona charter school with Navajo roots appears to be the first solar- and wind-powered public school in the country.

The STAR Charter School is a 130-student preschool through eighth-grade school about 30 miles east of Flagstaff, Ariz. It's on the southwest corner of the Navajo Nation and mostly serves its rural students.

The STAR Charter School opened in August 2001 with 23 students in grades one through six, and it was determined to become a model for small community schools, according to its webite. Its goal was to deliver a high-quality education despite a lack of jobs, no public utilities, high dropout rates and "a history of conflict between governmental institutions and the people they are supposed to serve," according to its website.

Hundreds of solar panels and five wind turbines supply all the needed power to run its buildings. The school's name, STAR, is an acronym for "Service to All Relations," and its philosophy is based on integrating the Navajo traditions that define the community. The school promotes self-reliance, alternative building methods, and energy sources such as solar power.

Its efforts are receiving national attention. In April, the school was one of 78 across the country to be recognized with the U.S. Department of Education's first-ever Green Ribbon Award. Those were given to schools that "exercise a comprehensive approach to creating 'green' environments through reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring a high-quality environmental and outdoor education to prepare students," according to the department.

The school also was named one of Scholastic Parent & Child magazine's 25 Coolest Schools in America for its innovation.

Finally, the school has earned the support of the Rural School and Community Trust, a nonprofit rural education advocacy group. The school uses a Montessori approach and puts an emphasis on early math instruction, citing research that has shown math is a better predictor of future school success than reading achievement.

The school caught the Rural Trust's attention by receiving a highly rated ranking in the federal Investing in Innovation grant program, although it ultimately failed to win i3 funding. Its proposal was to work with other Native American student schools to implement similar approaches, particularly in math education.

With financial aid from the Rural Trust, it has provided teachers with Montessori materials and professional development through online classes. The school is working to develop a series of 12 DVDs on different aspects of its program so other rural schools can use them.

The first three DVDs are available on STAR's website.

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