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SMHS engineering class makes toys for kids in crisis

03/03/2017 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. Service goes hand-in-hand with education at St. Mary’s High School. As the only Catholic high school in southern Colorado, St. Mary’s teaches students how to live out their Catholic identity through helping others. That’s why when engineering teacher Mike Kloenne heard about Wheels of a Dream, a nonprofit that makes wooden toys for children, it seemed like a perfect fit for a class project.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, six St. Mary’s students, along with Kloenne and two parents, spent the morning learning how to make wooden toys. During their three hours of work, the students created 37 new toys that Wheels of a Dream will distribute. More students will have a chance to try their hand at toy making on March 18 and a date to be determined in April. While toy making relates to an upcoming project in Kloenne’s class, working with Wheels of a Dream was an optional event for the students.

“Working with Wheels of a Dream combines our engineering skills with our broader Catholic identity to help those in need,” Kloenne said. “I think it’s key to bring those things together.”

Wheels of a Dream provides traditional, handmade wooden toys for children in need by giving the toys to area hospitals, the police department, the fire department, and TESSA. Jim King’s idea sparked the creation of Wheels of a Dream in April 2016, and the idea was then supported by friends and co-workers including Otis Moreland. In less than a year, Wheels of a Dream has provided about 1,000 toys for children in crisis.

A trip to buy lumber for another project led Kloenne to learn about the non-profit. Knowing that his Introduction to Engineering Design class would be working on a toy project toward the end of the spring semester, Kloenne contacted King to see if there was a way for St. Mary’s students to get involved.

“I think working with Wheels of a Dream helps the students understand the total process by seeing it in action. They see the toy being made from A to Z,” Kloenne said. “That’s what our class does — brainstorm ideas, decide which ideas to pursue, research to support our decisions, design it on a computer, then make it. It’s always more satisfying to hold something in your hand and say, ‘I made this,’ than it is to just show a computer model.”

King and Moreland spent the morning teaching the St. Mary’s students how to safely use the woodworking equipment and giving them tips on getting the best results. While the engineering students aren’t yet working on their toy projects, helping Wheels of a Dream might have gotten the idea wheels turning for some of the students.

Freshman Mark Rysavy decided to take the Introduction to Engineering Design course after taking a summer engineering course at St. Mary’s. He said he enjoys the hands-on aspect of Kloenne’s engineering class and liked the practical experience gained through working with Wheels of a Dream.

“During the summer course, I liked how we were taught to problem solve with engineering,” he said. “And of the three projects we’ll do in Intro in Engineering Design, I think I’ll like the toy project the best. It seems like a good use of engineering to help others.”

Katie Morales, also a freshman, loves engineering and was excited to work with Wheels of a Dream.

“I’m a math and science person and have three older siblings who are engineers, so I guess it runs in the family,” she said. “I don’t have any ideas for my toy project yet, but I wanted to come today to get experience.”

(Amy G. Partain is communications associate for St. Mary’s High School.)

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