Extraordinary senior: Benjamin McLaughlin

Bridgehampton High School senior Ben McLaughlin built a Bridgehampton High School senior Ben McLaughlin built a solar-powered irrigation system for his school’s greenhouse and a solar-powered classroom for poor students in Fiji. He and his classmates will travel to the island nation to set it up. (May 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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For the past two years, Benjamin McLaughlin has been working to create a solar-powered classroom that would fit into a shipping container and would -- for the first time -- bring 11 computer terminals to a part of Fiji where students are so poor they don't even have paper and pencils.

A few weeks ago, he watched as the classroom was packed on a truck and sent on a trip halfway around the world. After it gets there, he and several classmates will go to Fiji to set it up.

"Everyone in school helped," he said, including drawing a globe on the shipping container along with the word BULA -- it means "hello" in Fijian -- in big red letters.

McLaughlin, 18, of Bridgehampton, said he wanted to do a school project involving solar energy, and he chose Fiji because he wanted to find a place where there was a great need and where no one else was doing much. The solar classroom cost about $35,000. McLaughlin got a Lowe's Environmental Leadership Grant of $5,000 to help pay for it, sought donations from family and friends and picked up other donations from community organizations, including the East Hampton Rotary Club.

McLaughlin has also used his design skills to build a solar-powered irrigation system for a school greenhouse.

He said he has spoken to others about creating similar solar classrooms, but that it could take years for other districts to approve the project. "I'll have to pass the torch," McLaughlin said.

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HIS PLANS: McLaughlin has applied to Arizona State, Oregon State and the University of Denver to study environmental science.

AT COLLEGE I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO:Getting involved in a hands-on program that will let him focus on things he finds interesting, not just going to regimented classes. "That would be 13th grade," he said.

HIGH SCHOOL HIGH POINT: Creating and shipping out BULA.

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