"Energy" was the word of the day at Summit Cove Elementary School on Thursday.
Volunteers with AmeriCorps and CoPIRG, the Colorado Energy Service Corps, spent their spring break week visiting schools around Summit County to spread the word about energy conservation.
This week, volunteers came from the University of Colorado in Boulder and Denver and from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Representatives from Fort Collins were in town last week. This is the third year for the spring break service trip and the first time it has come to Summit County.
"Our goal is to educate the next generation about renewable energy, pollution, things that are happening in the environment right now, because we want to spread that as much as possible," said Bernadette Leyba of Metropolitan State University in Denver. "They are the next generation. They're the ones that are going to be impacting how far this goes and how much we can make a difference, and hopefully they will be spreading the word to their friends and family."
Program director Kim Stevens said that the program's statewide goal is to educate around 20,000 students every year. In Summit County, she estimates they will reach at least 800 students.
"Just today we are going to educate 300 kids," Stevens said, indicating the second-, third- and fourth-graders gathered to watch the presentation.
To start, the group presented a slideshow, then led a question-and-answer discussion with the students. Students raised their hands to give definitions of energy and the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Demonstrations included pushing a chair and rubbing hands together to create more energy.
After the presentation, the students broke off into groups, with one or two volunteers per class. Discussion continued, along with games with energy themes.
Having the hands-on activities helps convey the message, Leyba said. "We can show them pictures and explain how it is, but this way they can get hands on and actually understand how these things work all together. Then if they know how they work, they know they have the ability to go ahead and build these things too or go on and create careers and develop these ideas from there."
The demonstrations are not only effective but engaging, said volunteer Gasper Mortellaro. "That's one way we rope them in."
Another aspect of the presentation included a reading of the Dr. Seuss book "The Lorax," which discusses environmental issues. After the reading, the volunteers took time to speak with the students about their reaction to the book's message and what it meant to them.
"I think that's the most fun thing, coming up with interactive activities," said Stevens. "I think it's really fun to get the students engaged and get them excited about this. What we really want to do is give them the idea that they can actually do something at home and actually make a difference right now."
Stevens recalled several moments during the week when she noted the impact of the message reaching beyond the presentation. One was a parent telling her how her son was suddenly very conscious of conserving energy by turning lights off in the house. Another moment came when a student excitedly asked permission to teach her younger sister what she had learned.
Leyba agreed. "It seems like they all impact you," she said. "Every day is a new story. You think of that one child that you saw the light bulb go on and they got really excited about something."
The energy conservation presentation came at a great time for the Summit Cove fourth-graders, who have been studying energy for the past several weeks.
"The people from CoPIRG are the real experts out there in the field doing real live work, and right now our kids are working on energy units, so for some kids that was a perfect mix," said principal Crystal Miller. "They still are in the process of learning a lot about energy and different types of energy, so especially for that fourth-grade level, it was just a perfect mix."
The students seemed to be enjoying themselves, enthusiastically raising their hands and answering questions. Students from Jessica Michaels' fourth-grade class said they enjoyed the activities and were interested in learning more.
"It's good for them to see experts and people who are interested in the subject throughout the state," Michaels said. "It allows them to think more broadly about the concept."
The students weren't the only ones having a good time. Even as their week comes to an end, the volunteers said they had not only enjoyed their work but gained from it as well.
"I wanted more ways of getting into the classroom, and when I found out about this group I thought, that's the best way to do it, get out there and make a difference, spread the word of energy conservation and being able to save the planet to these kids," Leyba said. "It's been great so far."