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They may not look like it, but the three dozen or so new solar panels adjacent to the MAST Academy soccer fields represent something tremendous.

The solar panels symbolize the ongoing partnership between Key Biscayne and the magnet school as the Village donated $40,000 to the project – two-thirds of the total $63,000 cost.

The project shows the Miami-Dade School District’s commitment to the environment with MAST working towards becoming the first zero waste, zero energy school in Florida. The district has also started using electric school buses.

And most of all, the solar panels represent young students at MAST intention on wrestling their planet back from the brink of environmental disaster.

On Thursday, with School Board Chair Mari Tere Rojas and Key Biscayne Council Member Frank Caplin on hand, a ceremonial ribbon was cut to celebrate the project.

The effort was spearheaded by the parent-student group Green Champions at the school. Then-MAST students, Daniel Sardina and Pedro Balabuch Dal Bo, pitched Key Biscayne on the solar panels more than four years ago.

The panels are expected to produce enough wattage (20,439 kWh) in the first year to offset 14.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the environment, the school district said. That is the equivalent of three gasoline powered cars being removed from the road.

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School District Chairp Mari Tere Rojas cuts the ribbon to celebrate the installation of solar panels at MAST Academy on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. To her right is Key Biscayne Council Member Frank Caplin, MAST Principal Cadian Collman-Perez and Michelle Drucker, the former MAST parent who helped co-found the Green Champions at the school. (KBI Photo: John Pacenti)

Tere Rojas lauded Key Biscayne’s involvement in the project, half-joking that the school district will soon come back to the Village asking for monetary support on other projects.  “And we continue to work very collaboratively and cohesively with all of you, as we continue one day at a time, one step at a time to make a difference,” she told Caplan.

Caplan spoke eloquently about “climate challenges” — whether global warming, saltwater intrusion, increasingly violent weather, flooding, or drought fire. 

“Nature throws a punch, and we adapt, and we overcome,” Caplan told the students attending the ribbon-cutting. “Part of the answer is you. It’s what we’re here to do today, to celebrate little hinges swinging big doors.”

MAST was the first high school in Florida to receive the Gold Apple Award earlier this year – the highest recognition in the state’s Green School program. Michelle Drucker founded the Green Champions in 2017 when her two children went to MAST.

Drucker said the Green Champions follow the science on climate change and know their planet, their future, is in peril. 

“We follow the evidence. If someone says don’t follow the evidence, then you know what, ask yourself, are they following the money? Because the people following the money, don’t want to hear the evidence,” Drucker said.

Speaking of money, she said the solar panels will pay for themselves in five or six years and can save millions of dollars for the school district.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.