At St. Andrew's Country Day School in Kenmore, students in the middle school grades are in the process of learning more about energy use and how to live according to Pope Francis' call to care for their common home. Last month, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Andrew's went on a field trip to help them learn more about energy sources, usage and how to live a greener lifestyle.
Middle school students visited the Buffalo Museum of Science on Feb. 3 for its "Energy Day," and they also plan to visit a power plant in Niagara Falls to gain firsthand experience as they learn about how homes and buildings are heated in the winter and the various pros and cons of energy use.
According to Principal Kathy Dimitrievski, who attended the Feb. 3 trip, it all began when students had been taking pre-engineering classes, but the teacher for the course went on maternity leave. As a result, Dimitrievski had to look into a replacement for modeling and design courses, and she saw the chance to introduce students to a different unit of study related to engineering. She also introduced it to tie the course in with Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato Si," where he discussed the environment.
"I had been researching about geothermal heating, and I had been reading up on it and I thought it would make a good topic of study for the students. It would link in to engineering. It would link into how we heat our homes, schools and business, as well as link into the pope's encyclical," she said. "I thought it was a really good connection and it will give us an opportunity with the older students we may not have had otherwise."
Dimitrievski talked to Thomas Martinelli, the substitute teacher filling in, and he was interested in the idea. He now comes in every six days to work with the seventh- and eighth-graders. A second teacher, Elizabeth Sykes, works with the sixth-graders in their pre-engineering class.
"We're starting with energy, how we heat the school and a field trip to the boilers," Dimitrievski said. "Then, the other thing would be, how do we heat our homes? (We are) researching how we heat our homes, and listing the pros and cons of that. How do industries heat large buildings? That kind of connects us with some local industries, such as Praxair. From there, we're going to go to the power plant and community sources of energy."
Additionally, students will be looking at the pros and cons of energy usage, as well as the controversies that have surfaced in the United States regarding some alternative sources of energy.
"It's really to dig deeper, because sometimes there are two sides of a controversy to understand them. That brings us to not only energy consumption, but the effect on the environment, which directly leads us into the pope's encyclical," Dimitrievski said, noting students will be studying the text itself. Martinelli already has a copy of the pope's encyclical and is getting ready to bring it in to the class.
Dimitrievski also said it is important for older elementary school students to understand how the pope feels about energy and human usage of the environment, as well as what young people can make of these matters.
"I agree that we have to care for the creation of God, and it goes back to my feelings about creation and our responsibility, although I do believe that in the end it's God's will," she said.
Finally, she expressed concern for the environment and those in need, which are sentiments that Pope Francis also expressed in the encyclical. Pope Francis expressed his belief that when industry pollutes the environment, it is ultimately the poor who suffer most, and if people are breathing contaminated air, those are brothers and sisters in God, and this is something Catholics should consider.
"It's a really complex question: how do you provide for keeping a cleaner world and taking care of the world, and at the same time, providing for the poor?" Dimitrievski asked. "When those prices on the pump go down below $2, like they are now, that brings hope to a lot of people that they maybe can go on a vacation, that they maybe can afford a little more on the table, but what are the long-range effects?"
Through the course, students will be able to get an awareness of what the issues are, how to be responsible and even feel a sense of responsibility.
"I think for a pope to speak on topics like this, and anything globally important, is a great thing," Dimitrievski said.