Students power up with summer program from Holy Cross Ministries |

Students power up with summer program from Holy Cross Ministries

Holy Cross Ministries has long sharpened its focus on the well-being of the environment.

But Sister Mary Ann Pajakowski, education director for the ministries, said it takes a unique approach to get children to care, as well. To that end, the organization this summer gave students a special, hands-on lesson in energy and conservation.

For three weeks in the middle of Holy Cross Ministries’ youth summer program in Park City, which ran June 15 through July 23, students learned about energy, where it comes from, and why conserving it is important. The lessons culminated in the students pedaling bicycles that had been converted into generators to power household appliances such as blenders and stereos.

"The hands-on piece of it was what they really liked," said Pajakowski, adding the lessons fit perfectly with the Park City School District’s focus on teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts. "The staff worked on giving them a good experience. I think when you’re actually hands-on and doing it, it raises more questions from the kids. They have a chance to ask things they might not have even thought about before. Giving children that opportunity, and exposing them to an experience, is important."

Leonel Nieto, outcomes director for Holy Cross Ministries, said lessons centered on topics such as where energy comes from and where it goes and the differences between renewable energy and non-renewable energy. But as vital as it was to teach the students about conserving energy, showing them why conservation is important was also a focus.

"We sort of killed two birds with one stone," Nieto said. "We first of all wanted to teach the kids about energy, but teaching them why it matters is how you really make an impact with them. It gave them a lot of exposure to some topics that maybe they weren’t aware of."

Nieto was surprised what the students did not know about energy. But he was pleased by their interest in learning. They showed enthusiasm and were able to make connections between the concepts and their own lives.

"Many of the students were surprised to find out there are actually two kinds of electrical currents, AC and DC," he said. "They wondered, ‘Why are there two different types of currents? Which is the one we use at home? Where is the other one used?’"

The students were also fascinated to learn that, by using the bicycle generators, the food they ate would essentially power the appliances.

"The most basic way that I could explain it is the food that you eat is transformed into physical energy, then when you put yourself on a bicycle, it transforms into other kinds of energy," Nieto said. "It was really fun to expose the kids to this."

Nieto didn’t expect all of the students to remember each of the concepts they learned during the program, particularly since some of the lessons were quite complex. But giving the students a glimpse at energy helped hammer the concepts home.

"I think they’ll remember the overall experience," Nieto said. "It was fun for everyone who was involved."

Pajakowski said she was hopeful the program will help the students become environmentally conscious as they grow into adults.

"It’s about getting that connection between our environment and our lives," she said. "I think it’s through making those connections that kids learn to care about the environment. If they don’t have any experience with it, it’s harder to teach them to care."