2012-05-25 / Community

‘Dripial Pursuit,’ other games, part of water education

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Carina Brown, an intern at the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, talks with students from Kaler Elementary School in South Portland. The Audubon Society was one of dozens of organizations that presented educational information at the Southern Maine Children’s Water Festival on May 18. (Michael Kelley photo) Carina Brown, an intern at the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, talks with students from Kaler Elementary School in South Portland. The Audubon Society was one of dozens of organizations that presented educational information at the Southern Maine Children’s Water Festival on May 18. (Michael Kelley photo) Last Friday 700 students from 14 southern Maine schools learned just how important water is.

On May 18, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from Saco Middle School, Scarborough Middle School and Memorial Middle School, Kaler Elementary School and Dyer Elementary School in South Portland participated in the 17th annual Southern Maine Children’s Water Festival, a five-hour water festival held at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Marianne DuBois, environmental geologist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, helped to plan this year’s festival, which was sponsored by the Maine DEP and two dozen other local, state, and federal agencies, businesses and organizations.

“We’re interested in gathering students together to understand the value of water—clean water specifically and what they can do to protect water quality and possibility rethink how they see water and how they use water in their lives,” DuBois said.

One of the activities that forced students to rethink how much water is used on a daily basis was the Bucket Brigade, a water jug relay run by Sarah Mosley of the Surfrider Foundation. Other scheduled activities included a 35-minute stage show by the Saco-based Ferry Beach Ecology School, classroom presentations and interactive exhibits in the college’s gymnasium.

“We teach ecology in our sixth grade and came about four years ago,” Lisa Hall, a sixth-grade teacher at Saco Middle School said while watching her students participate in the Bucket Brigade.

“We talk about what they can do to conserve and we talk about how water is a limited resource,” Hall said. “If we abuse it, we won’t have it to use anymore.”

In the unit, she noted, students learn that it takes 2 to 6 gallons of water to flush a toilet and 25 to 50 gallons of water for a five-minute shower. The average American, she added, uses 150 gallons of water a day. The Bucket Brigade water jug relay, Hall said, helps the students put some of those numbers into perspective.

Students from Saco Middle School, as well as students from the other schools that participated, had an opportunity to showcase some of their water-based knowledge during Dripial Pursuit, a friendly trivia contest pitting one school against another.

“My hope is my students gather knowledge about Maine, about the environment in general and about how they can help or hurt it with their actions,” said Travis Taylor, also a sixth-grade teacher at Saco Middle School.

“We will visit all this again and talk about what they learned here and what they can do in their own lives to make a difference,” he added as his students took on their counterparts from Scarborough Middle School.

As Saco Middle School and Scarborough Middle School battled wits in Dripial Pursuit, Denise McNamara, a fourth-grade teacher at Dyer Elementary School in South Portland, and her students used an interactive game to understand the challenges sea turtles face.

“(I hope they get an) appreciation for nature,” McNamara said as she watched Betty McWilliams, a retired biology teacher from Bonny Eagle High School organize the activity. “They are going to be stewards of the environment and are really going to have to take care of it. When they have an appreciation when they are younger, it becomes automatic. It becomes part and parcel of who you are.”

McNamara said an event like the Southern Maine Children’s Water Festival is an invaluable learning resource for students.

“I think they have the ability to really make learning come alive,” she said of the festival’s educators. “We are more limited in our resources. Anytime we can take advantage of experts, we do.”

The festival is an experience her students will not forget.

“It is entertaining. When you are learning and having fun, you remember it,” she said.

Samantha DePloy-Warren, director of communications and education for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said not every school gets an opportunity to participate in the festival.

“It’s pretty competitive to attend the festival,” she said. “Schools have to show how they are working water education into the classroom. This is something schools really want for their students.”

After applying to attend the festival, Mary Ann Page, a teacher in the multiage program at Scarborough Middle School, said 60 sixth grade students from the program were able to attend the event.

“One of the biggest focuses is on the environment and being kind to the environment and recognizing what they can do to help the environment. They learn more appreciation for the environment and water. To me, that is the biggest thing,” Page said.

Although the science curriculum this year revolves around physics, chemistry and astronomy, Page said much of what the students learn at the water festival can applied to the classroom.

Page said she looks at the festival as an opportunity to connect with other teachers and educational professionals.

“I like to see all the different styles of presentation,” she said. “I learn more about the environment and about things I can bring back into the classroom as I see these activities and listen to the experts and other educators.”

Throughout the day students attended educational presentations by organizations such as the Lakes Environmental Association, Maine Energy Education Program, Poland Spring Bottling Company, Portland Water District, Maine Agriculture in the Classroom, Chewonki Foundation, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Wells National Marine Estuarine Research Reserve, Biodiversity Research Institute, Maine Department of Agriculture, Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Maine State Aquarium.

“For the organizations who presented, it is a way for them to reach a whole different group. They get in touch with a bunch of students who are studying water,” DuBois said. “They also connect with the teachers. We have a teacher resource area, where teachers can get more information and take that back to the classroom.”

Other organizations, such as the Maine DEP, Maine Audubon Society, the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program and Maine Wilderness Guides Association, created interactive exhibits for the students in the college gymnasium.

Karen Briggs, a fifth-grade teacher at Kaler Elementary School in South Portland, said it is nice to see that many of the exhibits directly connect with things she and the other Kaler science teachers teach in their classrooms.

“What the students are seeing and doing is a connection to what we’ve been learning in the classroom. As I look at these exhibits, many of them are supporting what they are learning in the classroom or during our work outside,” Briggs said.

Her students are creating video documentaries to chronicle pollution problems in habitats in South Portland. The students filmed the documentaries this week and are getting them ready to be show on community access television during the beginning of June.

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