At Sultana High School and Desert Trails High School, the effects of saving energy go beyond classrooms with half the lights off: Energy savings have meant new classroom DVD players, new chairs for teachers and benches in the common areas around campus.

Over the past five years, Hesperia Unified School District schools have saved more than $660,000 in energy costs, and have reduced the district's carbon dioxide emissions by more than 2,000 tons. To encourage school sites to pursue energy conservation strategies, the HUSD turned around and gave half of those savings back to the school sites, to spend on further energy-saving programs and educational materials.

On Monday, March 3, the HUSD, Sultana and Desert Trails were honored by the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit coalition promoting efficient and clean energy usage.

"We don't give awards lightly," coalition president Kateri Callahan told audience members gathered at Sultan Hall. "We only pick the cream of the crop."

At both Sultana and Desert Trails, it's the students leading the way with campus Green Schools programs.

"This is one of the few clubs on campus that actually helps the school," Sultana student Kallen Bakas said.

"It doesn't hurt that we're giving money to the school," classmate Katie Peckinpaugh said. "People say, 'oh, you bought that.'"

"There's trees and benches at school," Morwenna Rowe said. "That's immediate gratification."

Sultana's Green School program has saved the school more than $160,000 since 2002. This year, the school expects to save $60,000 this year in energy costs, through a variety of energy-saving measures instituted by the students after a survey of ways the school could be run in a more ecologically sound fashion.

Across town, alternative high school Desert Trails has a much smaller campus and smaller total savings, but the $10,000 the school has made through its Green Schools program has been just as important to students.

"That's where change the change comes," school counselor Barbara Ward-Lawe said, "From the young people."

"The adults just believe what they want to believe," student David Tippery said.

"There's a lot of people who think it's a little ridiculous because they don't get it," Sultana's Elena Higuchi said.

Sultana's Green Schools team gets teased by at least one teacher: Spanish teacher John Gonzales refers to them as "Los Hombres Verdes" (the Green Men).

"It's kind of like a dog that poops in the house," Tippery said, provoking surprised laughs from his friends, "You've got to break them of that."

In addition to doing campus energy surveys, and recommending changes, students at both schools have spoken to other area schools and taught students and staff to do their own energy audits.

"When you tell them about the refrigerator, that it takes $1 a day just to have it running in their house," Desert Trails' Steven Lacy said, "They go like 'whoa.'"

"Instead of using five gallons of water brushing your teeth, you can turn it off and use one gallon," classmate Kalub Wimer said.

At the awards ceremony last week, representatives of Southern California Edison had one more big carrot to tempt students to stay the course with their Green Schools work.

"Edison told us Monday if we graduate college, we have a guaranteed job waiting for us," Desert Trails' Tippery said. "That's all five of us."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.