School living the “green” life-style
Lyudmila Lyksha: “New technology is not the main objective. This project is, first and foremost, about changing people’s minds.”
Lyudmila Lyksha is the director of the Belarusian secondary school № 4 in Dziaržýnsk, Minsk Oblast. The school won the contest of project initiatives and was selected as a pilot site for the implementation of the “Energy Efficiency in Schools” project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in Belarus.
“Frankly speaking, before this project the concepts of “energy saving” and “energy efficiency” were not present in my life at all. Of course, I’ve heard about the need to save water and electricity before, but nothing much beyond that call for action,” says Lyudmila Lyksha, Director of the secondary school № 4 in Dziaržýnsk, Minsk Oblast.
“When impressive men in white shirts and ties first came to our school and were handing out business cards, telling about the project, and asking questions on energy efficiency, I couldn’t really understand what they wanted from me. I was busy thinking about the start of the school year, while those people kept talking about energy efficiency. I could not imagine that this would become a new starting point for us, and that the most interesting and fulfilling years of my life lied ahead.”
According to Lyudmila, she didn’t realize at first that the most important part of this project was not construction. She focused on the new windows, roof, insulation, etc. But gradually she got to understand how big and important the educational component of the project was. And that the primary goal is not simply to introduce new technologies, but to change people’s minds: the minds of teachers, students, parents, local community, and the local authorities.
“I think, construction work is not the priority here, but rather making people realize the importance of energy saving,” says Lyudmila.
Within the framework of EU-UNDP project “Energy Efficiency in Schools” modern energy-efficient technologies have been introduced at the school, such as solar collectors and a ventilation system with heat recovery. The walls and the roof have been insulated, and conventional windows were replaced with energy-efficient triple-pane windows. Apart from this, energy-demanding technological equipment in the kitchen has been replaced with the energy-efficient alternatives, and incandescent light bulbs were substituted with energy-saving ones. Introduced energy efficient technologies will help reduce twofold thermal energy and consumption in the school.
She started with herself. Lyudmila is not only holds a Director’s position at school but she also teachers Physics to students. She tried to engage in small business. She did very well and made good money. Yet she returned to work in the school anyway.
“This is a calling; it is not given to everyone. I felt my strong commitment to the students and the school. I realized that I did not want to betray myself,” says Lyudmila.
She always considered it a duty to make students to fall in love with her subject. As a result, Physics has always been the most important subject for her students. The same thing happened with the project.
“In my life I am always guided by the principle that if you do something, do it properly. Otherwise, do not do it at all. By the way, I would give such advice to all young specialists who are at the very beginning of their career path,” says Lyudmila.
She gradually started introducing the topics of energy conservation and efficiency at her lessons, and soon every teacher and even laboratory assistant got involved and started covering the topic at their lessons too. Lyudmila is proud to be able to “infect” her staff with these ideas.
“Yes, maybe, at the very beginning, many did it as a formality, for the sake of just doing it,” admits the director. “But people haven’t noticed how the implementation of the project gradually started to capture and inspire them. Today the staff of the school lives a qualitatively new life. And I am sure that and they also think differently.”
Lyudmila gives examples of how their school is living the “green” lifestyle now.
At every lesson, we have a small break called a “sports minute” when kids stand up and do some physical exercises. This is not some new initiative; almost every school is familiar with this practice. However, at our school we have added another minute to this minute called “a minute of thrifty living”. During these 60 seconds, we tell kids about energy saving, ecology, sustainable development, etc.”
“Here’s another eloquent example of how project ideas have already been integrated into the life of the school,” continues Lyudmila. “One of my teachers was invited to give an ‘open lesson’ in a local community college. She didn’t know that I would be attending this lesson too. Imagine my surprise when I saw that she’d brought our project roll-ups, brochures, and crafts to her lesson in Mathematics (!), and kept us all also engaged in the topic of energy conservation throughout the lesson.
“It’s morning, cold and snowing heavily outside. Today is a day off. We are organizing a tour to the Children’s Rehabilitation Health Centre “Hope”, where diverse smart-home technologies have been introduced. I didn’t think my staff would come, as it was happening on the weekend, all of my teachers have their families to spend the time with and some work around homes. To my surprise 40 people showed up and a bus was full. During the tour our teachers made notes, recorded their observations, asked relevant questions. And on the way back home they came to the conclusion: “We still have it better at our school!”, Lyudmila recalls laughing.
With the help of this project the school gained respect in the town. Everybody knew about it now. Dziaržýnsk is not a big place, there are two grammar schools, and determined parents have always wanted their children to study at those schools. “But now they want their kids to go to our school,” Lyudmila says with pride. During the winter break alone, we have received 12 new students. Parents are now proud to say that their children go to school № 4. The locals come to our school to simply admire the building. And we invite them to our Resource Centre for energy saving, created during the project. They don’t want to leave, especially the elderly.”
The school has become a platform for numerous regional events, and not only educational ones. The school has moved on to a very different level and is now acting as a partner of various initiatives on sustainable development and “green” lifestyle. “We have found like-minded people in every corner of Belarus,” says the Director. “And schools from all regions of Belarus send their staff to learn from our experience. It is great that the school is really working as a demonstration platform, and I believe, this is an important achievement of the project.”
The school participated in the national competition “green blogs” and won in the nomination “The Most Energy Efficient Team”, and was awarded a trip to Lithuania. The established system that encourages energy-efficient lifestyle was recognized as the best in Minsk Oblast, and as a result, the school has received the right to represent Minsk Oblast at the Republican Competition “Energy Marathon”.
“It seemed to me that we, as the teaching staff, invested all our energy in energy efficiency, but it turned out that the project has also touched upon a number of other important issues,” said Lyudmila.
Seeing positive changes in our school, the local authorities got involved as well. The school building experienced change from outside, but inside spaces also needed renovation. And we raised the funds to resolve these issues, although the EU-UNDP project has not allocated money for those renovation works specifically.
The Director acknowledges that before the project the school didn’t have an established children’s community: “Let’s be honest. As a rule, children’s self-governance exists only on paper. Mostly, children lack initiative and are always waiting for instruction guidance from adults. Today I am proud to say that for half a year already a School Board “Energy WE” has been functioning in our school. Students have divided responsibilities among each other. They are responsible for recording temperature both inside and outside the school, taking the readings from the meter to measure electricity consumption, monitoring the amount of water that in the basement (in cubic meters) to check if it complies with the standards adopted by the City Executive Committee, etc. They draw charts and diagrams themselves too. I usually do not interfere with their work and don’t supervise them much. It often happens the other way round. They would say: “We had the Committee meeting yesterday, Lyudmila Konstantinovna, we were waiting for you, but you did not come.”
Lyudmila has gained a lot from the project professionally, but it has also changed her mindset, made her more confident. Now she does not consider school as some local educational unit, self-indulgent in its own agenda, but boldly aspires for school №4 to find a niche it can occupy in the country.
“I have personally met so many enthusiastic people around the country. I guess, throughout my life I haven’t had acquaintances as interesting, inspiring and useful as those I have acquired during the implementation of the project.”
Lyudmila says that in the course of the project she has set two goals. Firstly: to understand the concepts of energy efficiency and then to transfer this knowledge to the staff. “I think I have successfully managed the task, I would say I managed to complete 90% of it,” says Liudmila. “Today, the teachers and myself can give a tour of the school and tell about the introduced technologies just as professionally as any energy efficiency expert would”.
I think that the main challenge for any leader is not the ability to solve some current issues or ability to communicate with people, but a lack of knowledge. The lack of necessary knowledge was the main challenge for me at the beginning. At the same time, it kept me toned, made me move forward and develop my skills. And also a sense of responsibility for I should be a model for my colleagues and students.
Thirst for new knowledge and a sense of responsibility have made me what I am today.
Secondly, to learn English. “The project made me realize that one cannot do without English these days. I have been taking private lessons for almost half a year now.”
“Whether I wanted it or not I had to monitor the construction work. I am now so well-versed in construction matters, that, probably, could work as a construction manager,” jokes the Director.
Lyudmila acknowledges that she is naturally not very prudent: “I’m quite wasteful, let’s face it. But the project has had a great impact on me, in everyday life as well. I turn the tap off when my family members are cleaning their teeth. I finally decided to replace the old single-chamber windows in my house. I have now installed LED-based lighting where it is possible. I use two light bulbs in the places where I previously used five.”
“We often carry out anonymous questionnaires among our students on various issues in order to stay updated and to use every opportunity to improve the quality of the work we do,” informs the Director. “How pleasant it was when regardless of the questions in the form, we kept coming across the following comments on the answer sheets: “Thank you for completing the renovation work!”. “Thank you for the new school!”
“For me, it is the best evaluation of the work we have done together”, — concludes Lyudmila.