Among the daily stresses high school students face, one of the most painful must surely be the sight of a low battery message on their phone.
What makes the crisis even worse is having no way to charge it, forcing them to imagine the unthinkable: going a few hours without a phone.
"At school I always forget my charger or I'm sitting far away from an outlet," Sukhjinder Sandhu, a junior at Independence High School, said.
Lucky for him, SunPower Horizons can help. Students participating in the fourth annual Kern Solar Energy Academy at Bakersfield College on Thursday built their own solar notebook charger capable of charging phones and other electronic devices. Equipped with the charger, Sandhu won't have to worry about going a day at school without his phone.
"I would totally utilize this," he said.
Last week 28 students from West and Independence high schools participated in a weeklong solar academy that taught them more than just the benefits of renewable energy.
The five-day experience gives students exposure to four careers: marketing, project management, design engineering and finance, explained Renée N. Solari, senior program manager for SunPower Horizons.
To learn about these careers, students work in teams to develop a solar business and create a solar project proposal. The presentation simulates a solar company making a pitch to an individual interested in having solar on his home.
Throughout the week students met with solar professionals, underwent skill training, conducted independent research and participated in hands-on activities — one of which was creating phone chargers.
West High School physics teacher Chad Savage showed students where to cut wires attached to solar panels and how to use a soldering gun to pull wires out of their plastic coating. Then he let the students work on their own.
"It's really challenged my ability to learn and how well I can obtain the information," said Independence High School sophomore Bridgette Roberts.
"The first day was stressful but the more we got into it, it became easy and pretty fun," added Mariah Hernandez, a junior at West High School. "I thought I wouldn't complete anything from this class, but it was actually easy and I got through everything."
The program is targeted toward Independence and West high school students because both have energy academics or pathways available for students. Carrie Newman, a science teacher at West, hopes more Kern High School District students can participate in future years.
"What I really like is that it gives them a sneak peek of what it would be like to be in the industry and they're actually doing what someone in the industry would do," she said. "They're creating a plan for a customer to try to sell them a solar system for their house. They do a site assessment for the house, how many panels go on it, where to put panels, how much it would cost."
More than just learning about solar energy, students have an opportunity to work on skills that will be necessary for any career, such as public speaking and group work.
Sandhu said he enjoyed learning about collaboration through the various hands-on activities he and his peers worked on.
Independence junior Arianne Barton even found ways to reduce her carbon footprint at home and encouraged family members to do the same.
"I cut down our red meat because I found it is processed and that involves carbon emissions," she said. "I try not to waste water, and I got my family into it too with reusable water bottles and other containers."
For some, the friendships and memories they created were the most beneficial aspect of the program. Roberts and Hernandez sat next to each other Monday, and by Thursday they were laughing, decorating their solar notebook chargers together and forming a bond that would last past the program's end date.
A Kern Solar Energy Academy is already in the works for next summer. Though the program has mainly targeted the same two high schools the past four years, any KHSD student can apply. Up to 32 students are accepted.
"Kern HSD has been a leader in developing career exploration and readiness and we’re delighted to be their solar industry partner to inspire our next generation of solar champions," Solari said in an email.