While Edison Academy HVAC students look on at an upshot burner, instructor Robert Stringham (far right) points out that the yellow tipping is a sign of incomplete combustion, which can produce carbon monoxide.

A few years ago, Robert Stringham read the tragic account of a small child and her mother who died during the night from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Instead of shrugging off the deadly incident, the HVAC instructor at Edison Academy thought it best to educate the public regarding the dangers of CO poisoning.

Thanks to a $10,000 community service grant from Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation, Stringham and Edison Academy students involved in SkillsUSA will launch a CO awareness program - dubbed The CO Project - at the start of the 2007-08 school year.

Plans call for students to hold educational workshops at a Lowe’s store in Woodbridge, Va., plus distribute CO detectors to those who attend. Edison Academy, located in Alexandria, Va., is part of the Fairfax County Public Schools.

“Every class I teach, whether it’s refrigeration, air conditioning, or a heating course, I mention the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and the importance of having a CO detector installed in the home,” said Stringham. “I have even purchased and donated CO detectors to friends and students. I have always felt more could be done to make people aware of the dangers, and this grant allows that to happen.”

Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, developed to help address the country’s growing skilled worker shortage and skills gap, recently contributed $500,000 to the SkillsUSA programs. Lowe’s, in turn, is awarding $10,000 grants to SkillsUSA chapters “for innovative community service projects and dynamic instructional program enhancements.”

Hearing about the grants, Stringham jumped at the opportunity. “Our new partnership with SkillsUSA underscores Lowe’s commitment to education,” said Larry Stone, chairman of Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation. “Through grants to local chapters and support of chapter community service projects, we hope to help further educate and empower young people who will become the contractors, builders, and industry leaders of the future.”


Stringham just could not get the local CO poisonings out of his mind. “As I read the story in the local newspaper, there was something familiar about it,” he said.

“The house was in my neighborhood, but there just seemed to be something else.” The next day a former student of an adult education refrigeration class that Stringham taught came by to visit.

“He had a slip in his hand from the gas company, explaining his gas was shut off due to faulty heating equipment,” remembered Stringham. “It was then I realized that it was him I had read about.”

The former student was crushed, as it was his visiting niece and her newborn that had died in their sleep. The two were traveling through the area and decided to stay the evening at the uncle’s urging.

“He explained to me that he woke up in the early morning feeling dizzy and disoriented,” said Stringham. “He went to open a window and immediately started to feel better. He went to check on his niece and her newborn, but they did not wake up. Both were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

It still gives Stringham chills. “Both lives could have been saved if they had proper warning,” he said. “A carbon monoxide detector in the house would have increased their chance of surviving.”


Stringham is counting on at least 50 Edison Academy students involved in SkillsUSA to participate in the project. This month he is to attend a train-the-trainer course in CO and combustion analysis. When students return to class for the 2007-08 school year in late August, Stringham plans to teach a few students the CO course, so they, in turn, can be certified and teach the CO class to other students.

More than a few Edison Academy students have already stepped forward. “I want to participate in this project to be supported by this grant because it can help save the lives of people,” said first-year HVAC student Patrick Sollers. “People will be more aware of carbon monoxide with this community service grant. It will help cut back on the deaths each year.”

Fellow first-year HVAC student John Buffington is just as eager to contribute. “I would like to participate in this CO awareness project because I think it is a great idea,” he said. “People should know about carbon monoxide and its deadly force.”

The project will officially kick off in September. During this month, students will be selected to participate, and they will organize the workshops and prepare materials accordingly. During the first week of October, a workshop for the media will be held at Edison Academy, plus the school will set up a display at the state SkillsUSA HVAC competition. Literature will also be passed out to attendees and other Virginia HVAC programs.

On the second and third week in October, the respective workshops will be held at the Lowe’s store in Woodbridge. Plans call for handing out at least 300 CO detectors with each workshop participant getting one.

According to Stringham’s research, there are approximately 500 deaths in the United States each year due to CO poisoning. What upsets him is that such deaths are preventable.

“This project could save lives,” he said. “Some people do not know the dangers of carbon monoxide and/or cannot afford to purchase a CO detector for their home. This project will raise awareness and offer a service to the community. The lasting impact is that people who receive the CO detectors will be safer in their homes. They will possess the knowledge of how to install and test a CO detector, and how to react if the detector signals an alarm.”

Stringham believes his CO Project could be implemented nationwide in partnership with HVAC programs involved with SkillsUSA. “The students and teachers that participate in the project will achieve a satisfaction through their good work and their ability to make a difference for the better,” said Stringham.

“The students’ involvement with the project will allow them to participate in aspects of leading, teaching, and development of relationships with their community, preparing them for leadership in the world of work.”


Chantilly Academy has been selected to receive a $10,000 education grant from Lowe’s and SkillsUSA to create toolkits for students in its construction technology program. Like Edison Academy, Chantilly Academy is one of the five high school academies in Fairfax County Public Schools.

The grant to Chantilly Academy is scheduled to fund the creation of 50 toolkits for use by students in the construction technology program. The students will be responsible for signing out the kits at the beginning of the 2007-08 school year and returning them at the end of the school year.

Also included in the grant are funds to cover the cost of high-end tools for use by all students in the classroom. According to Chantilly Academy, nearly 40 percent of construction technology students at the school are underrepresented minorities, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) students, or special education students.

Publication Date:06/25/2007