The Power of Student Voices

Students from Tacoma, Washington are playing a powerful role in persuading their school district to go solar.

You might say that students Gwendolyn Newport, Sammy Firkins and Annie Son began at the top. They had a plan to make their middle school the first with solar in Tacoma Public Schools, the third largest district in the state of Washington. They brought their idea to the governor.

The “Watts Up!” project was kickstarted when these middle school students were selected to be speakers at the governor’s STEM Education Innovation Alliance meeting in February 2019 at the state capitol. They shared their idea with Governor Jay Inslee, a champion of climate change initiatives, and presented their project to the statewide, multi-stakeholder STEM Alliance members.

“We were so nervous, we kind of blanked out when we presented,” said Newport, age 14. But when the students finished their presentation, audience members began texting the Tacoma Public Schools administrators, urging them to support the move, said Kathy Hall, the 7th grade science teacher who mentored the students on the project.

For the students, it was an empowering moment. “After we presented, so many people came up to us and offered their support and business cards,” said Son, age 15.


The students later brought their request to the school board. Thanks to their advocacy, a 100 kW solar array is planned for Jason Lee Middle School and the school board is now looking into opportunities to install more solar districtwide.

“I fully believe it was the voices of these young ladies that made us get to where we are right now,” said Hall. “If I had gone up there as a teacher, they would have said, ‘Yeah, right.’"

With the help of their teacher, the students have raised over $120,000 in grants from Tacoma Public Utilities, Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the Pierce Conservation District. Even though the students have since moved on to high school, they are continuing to fundraise for their middle school and meet their goal of $225,000 to buy the solar array.

LEARN MORE about and donate money to the Watts Up! project at

Last Updated: 6/9/2023

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