|Youngsters Soak Up Conservation Lessons at Lee Co. Water Fest|
Interactive Learning Experiences Aim to Create New Generation of Water Stewards
On May 12 and 13, the Haley Center on Auburn University’s campus was filled with students, but not with the usual college-aged crowd.
Over 2,000 fourth graders excitedly sat in classrooms and auditoriums like the college students they are preparing to be, engaged in fun, educational activities, and learned about water conservation and environmental stewardship at the 8th Annual Lee County Water Festival.
"I like how it was interactive," said Zoe Krtic, a student from Wrights Mill Road Elementary. "We got to do stuff while we were learning, instead of just sitting there. We got to do a lot of different things. I loved the rotations, and how we did not stay in one spot the whole time. The magic show was a surprise. I would definitely come back next year."
Students participated in an activity called "Edible Aquifer" in which volunteer instructors used ice cream and toppings to teach them how an aquifer works, and the importance of keeping underground water clean.
The ice cream constituted the ground, clear soda represented groundwater and precipitation, chocolate syrup was motor oil, red sprinkles were ant poison and green sprinkles were fertilizer.
The activity showed how easy it was for everyday chemicals to seep into the ground and harm the water supply.
"The goal is for the students to come away with a little information that sticks with them; so when they grow up, they’ll be conscious of water conservation and maybe be aware of things most people don’t think about—like when you spray chemicals or just dump chemicals in your backyard," said City of Auburn Civil Engineer for Development Daniel Crowdus. "That really can have detrimental effects on the water system—really the same water they’ll be drinking."
Students participated in another activity in which they built a mini water filtration system with a funnel, anthracite, gravel, sand, and muddy and clean water.
"We try to convey to them this is one of the biggest parts of the process at the water treatment plant," Daniel said. "In this city, water comes out of a lake and goes through the water plant. We built a mini version of a water filter. In this experiment, the kids get a really good idea of how important and big of an effect that has on cleaning the water."
Daniel, who has worked for the City of Auburn since ’06 and volunteered his time to the Water Festival since then, said, as an instructor, he conveys how expensive it is to clean the water.
"There’s not an infinite supply of water," Daniel said. "The population will grow, but the lakes don’t get bigger—so if you can conserve water, then you can handle a much bigger population for a long time before it becomes a real issue."
In another activity, children made a water cycle bracelet to wear and take home with them. Each bead on the bracelet represents a different phase of the water cycle.
"I think it’s a great opportunity for students of all ages to learn about the environment and water cycle, and how to protect the world they live in," said Brittney Herring, teacher at Wrights Mill Road Elementary. "They can take information home; information about conservation to their parents—daily household things they can do themselves to conserve water."
Children could barely contain their glee as they watched the Paul Cash Environmental Magic Show, based in California, which educates children about beneficial environmental practices while entertaining them.
Paul’s show developed about 15 years ago when he performed his environmental magic for WorldFest, LA’s largest Earth Day festival.
Currently, Paul works for Central Basin Water Municipal District and educates schools in 27 cities in LA County about environmental awareness with his act.
"I teach students simple things they can do right now and make it fun for them to learn," Paul explained. "They seem to remember the magic years later and with the environmental message behind it—it’s pretty effective that way. Plus, the rabbit in the show—they always seem to remember something about the rabbit."
Miss Auburn Opelika Area, Amanda Ford, showed her support for the event.
"I think it’s just a great event for the kids to come together and learn more about the water cycle and everything going on in Lee County," Amanda said. "All of the events we have done today have been very helpful. My favorite was the magic show—they’re having fun and getting to learn, too."
Amanda appreciates the conservation and environmental message.
"It’s very important to recycle, and it’s really important to get these kids educated at a young age so they will keep that up through their entire lives," Amanda said.
Anne Miller of Lee County, coordinator of the event, said the Water Festival began in ’04 and is backed by Lee County Soil and Water Conservation District and NRCS.
"We got together and decided this would be a great thing for Lee County," Anne said. "The first year we thought if we had 700 students we would be doing really well. We had 1,500 students. Every year we have all of the schools in Lee County attend, and they’re all so enthused about coming again."
Anne said the event lets people know how precious water reserves are.
"The mini filtration class is really neat because Auburn Water Works and Auburn Water and Sewerage Districts come out and they teach those classes," Anne said. "They let the students know where their water comes from in their part of the county and how precious and how much water it takes to do certain things—how much you use for a shower or washing a full load of clothes."
Anne said the children are educating their parents about being good stewards of conservation.
"The students get all these different ideas to take home to their parents. It’s really educating the whole community," Anne said.
Ed Gullatt of Lee County, district board member of NRCS, said he receives positive feedback from fourth-grade teachers from some of the schools that attend.
"They tell me it is one of the best field trips they take the kids on all year," Ed said.
The children receive a good, basic conservation lesson, he added.
Ed, a long-time farmer, continued that it would be beneficial for society to understand the positive connection between agriculture and conservation.
Parents who attended the event were impressed.
"I like how they incorporate teaching the water cycle in different ways and make it a fun learning experience," LaShonva Gardner said.
Teachers were happy with the education their students received for the day.
"We love the water filtration activity," said Leann White, a teacher from Dean Elementary. "What a great, hands-on way to learn about water conservation. We look forward to bringing our fourth graders every year."
Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.