Lights off, lightbulb moments on

By: Andrew Campanella

Last Upated: April 15, 2021


Something new (and green) is happening at Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School in Somerset, New Jersey.


Lights out. But on purpose.

Students at Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School gather in their garden That’s what happens one special day of the school year at Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School, a top-ranked K-12 public school in New Jersey. 

Lights are turned off, computers and smart boards are shut off, and textbooks are read outside.

Students at Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School use solar energy to roast smores Going one day without electricity is part of the school’s unique mission to teach students about energy demands. Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School was founded to serve an unmet need in New Jersey. It’s the first school in the state with a specific focus on renewable energy.

The school uses computers and Smart Tech (green technology) almost every day, but turning it all off once a year is a fun and healthy reminder of just how much we rely on energy.

Besides raising awareness about energy, the school sparks excitement in students about recycling, gardening, and other aspects of green lifestyles. 

The goal of going green? Student happiness. It’s easier for kids to find happiness in learning when they are “healthy in mind, healthy in body,” said Rajasri Govindaraju, curriculum specialist at the school.  

While the school is quite literally switching lightbulbs off for one day, the rest of the year is about kids having “lightbulb moments,” where inspiration is turned on!   

For students fascinated by energy, science, or technology, Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School offers a plethora of exciting options. 

Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter students study through hands-on project The school’s impressive robotics team recently placed fifth at a World Championship, and its students participate in Model UN, Science Olympiad, the Ultimate Mars Mission, and more. 

While the curriculum is crafted for students who are passionate about STEM and electronic connections, it doesn’t overlook human connections. 

 Teachers don’t really “teach” during the first week of school, said Govindaraju. Instead, staff focus on ensuring students are comfortable and confident in their learning environment.

For kindergarten students, a balloon artist is present on the first day of school and parents are encouraged to stay to help calm children’s nerves.  

In all grades, “[teachers] try to connect with the students, try to understand what their interests are, who they are, where they come from, what their needs are,” said Govindaraju.

For example, staff at the school make home visits to get to know families and their educational goals better. The goal is to create a “triangle” of learning between students, parents, and teachers, said Principal Oguz Yildiz. 

“As a team we work together to help the children,” said Yildiz. “The topics that we pick, the articles that they write, the books that they read are based on their interests. We try to take it from there on.”

Sometimes that team-based learning environment even results in staff joining students for athletic fun after a big test.

“After testing… I played with seventh and eighth grade soccer,” said Yildiz, with a smile. “They were all yelling, ‘How did you score that?’ They think that I’m old.”  

For a fun, family-style activity this February, the school celebrated the birthday of its New Jersey namesake, Thomas Edison, by hosting a “Wear a Lightbulb Hat Day.” 

Whether the lights are off or on students’ hats, Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School is creating an inspirational learning environment. That’s something to celebrate!


Read more: 5 Questions for Oguz Yildiz, Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School

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