St. Johns Co. opens green, all-digital school

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - The brand new elementary in St. Johns County that welcomes 500 students Monday morning is also a first for the county.

About 500 students are enrolled at Palencia Elementary School, which has been years in the making.

Palencia Elementary is the county's first "green school," and it's also completely digital, with textbooks and chalkboards replaced by digital devices.

The school's oversized windows help keep the energy use down. The tile is made out of plant material. There is also a touch screen where students and parents can look at how the school is monitoring its energy use.

"We'll monitor how much electricity we use during the day, how much water we consume, all kinds of monitoring devices. There's over 10,000 data points in this school that we constantly monitor," said Principal Don Campbell.

Part of the Palencia project is not only to be environmentally friendly, but to also instill those values in its students.

"What we want to do is make the building a teaching tool, so in one of our air handler rooms we put glass windows so the kids can see the air handler where the cold water comes into the building. The fans blow over the cold water and, through the vents, goes into their classroom," Campbell said.

The school was funded through a $16 million qualified school construction bond. The goal is to receive a LEED Award, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It's also hoping to get a Florida Power and Light grant to add solar panels.

Each classroom is equipped with a smartboard capable of displaying text and images from the teacher's computer or tablet, and rather than textbooks, there's iPads in every classroom. Two students will share one iPad to do their schoolwork throughout the day.

"It increases engagement by leaps and bounds because the kids think they're playing a game when they're actually learning something or practicing a skill," said second-grade teacher Stephanie Bozard.

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