School presentations are public-education gold. Here’s how to navigate the school system and become an expert educator.
Editor's Note: In his new blog, The Monthly Clarifier, Jeff Kalmes, an operator and plant supervisor in Billerica, Massachusetts, will discuss daily operations and issues relevant to wastewater treatment operators everywhere. Check back often for more hands-on advice.
A few months ago, I wrote an article called 10 Ways to Nail Your Next Classroom Presentation in which I provided some tips on making a successful classroom presentation (particularly to elementary students). However, the work actually begins long before you step into a classroom. Here’s how you can get your foot in the door of the education system.
Navigating the school system
Every year since 1994, I’ve written a letter to local elementary teachers, asking if they would like me to come in and help teach about the water cycle. When I first started this program, I had about 20 teachers participate per year. Today, I usually present to about 100 classes.
In my hometown of Billerica, Massachusetts, I have to go to the school superintendent to have my letter approved. He stamps the letter, signifying that he has seen the letter and approved it to go out into the school system. I then make 125 copies and head out to the six elementary schools in town. After getting buzzed in, I head to the school secretary’s office and show her my approved letter, and she puts one in every first- through fifth-grade teacher’s mailbox.
The letter is my invitation to the teachers saying I would like to come in and make a presentation on the water cycle. In the letter, I briefly describe my program and let the teachers know how long my presentation will be. Each presentation is geared toward the grade level. All grades — including first grade — hear about the water cycle and water usage. In second grade, I add groundwater, and in third grade, surface water. Fourth and fifth grades get a combination of everything plus drinking water, wastewater and storm runoff. My presentations last 30 to 45 minutes in first, second and third grades. Fourth and fifth grades generally run closer to an hour.
After receiving my letter, it’s up to the teachers to book time with me. I ask that the teachers email a couple of possible dates and times that work for them. I keep a calendar and book on a first-come-first-serve basis, which has worked very well for me. As the requests come in, I try to book my day up. Keep in mind, there are a few days where I’m criss-crossing the town in an effort to get to each school.
As a sidenote, it's very important to have a curriculum set up before you enter the school system. When I first started making presentations, I tried to wing it, which will eventually catch up to you. I keep very good notes on all the classes I see so that the next year I know what I have already done with them.
Scheduling your time
I start my program the week before April vacation and try to end around Memorial Day weekend. Usually, I set aside the first two weeks in June for tours, which include a one-hour tour of the drinking water and wastewater plants in my town. The tours are mostly for fifth-grade classes, but occasionally I will take some fourth-grade classes. Over the years I've found that this age level can keep up both physically and mentally with what we try to show them.
The prep work before the tour is key. I know in advance if a class is going on a tour, so I gear my classroom visit to what they are about to see. Many times, I see them a month before the tour, but you'd be surprised at what they retain from the classroom visit. The chaperones — usually parents — are usually the ones who don’t understand what they are seeing. That is the beauty of doing tours with elementary kids: You get the added bonus of taxpayers seeing what is going on in these treatment plants. They are truly amazed by what they see and learn by hanging out with their children on field-trip day.
Having grown up in town and going to three of the six elementary schools myself, I love being able to tell the kids a little about our town history, such as:
- The river was a different color everyday, due to the wool mill in town.
- There is no such thing as “new water.”
- Somebody is going to drink that water after I flush it down a toilet.
- There is more to turning on the faucet and getting clean safe water.
- When I was young, nobody came in to teach me about the water cycle.
Classroom visits can put the whole water story together for young kids. Bringing students and parents on treatment plant tours is public education gold. Showing off what we do and how we do it, could one day inspire a student to join our industry.
To get you started, here's the letter I send to teachers. Use it as inspiration for your educational program, and get out there and spread your knowledge!
It’s that time of year again! Time to book a visit to your class so I can help you teach about the water cycle. This will be my 23rd year doing this program, and I’ve been seeing about 100 classrooms per year.
Each year, I offer my services to your class to help educate them about the water cycle. My presentations are broken down by grade, but usually first grade is basic water cycle, second grade is ground water, third grade is surface water, fourth grade is wastewater and fifth grade is a combo of all plus drinking water and stormwater. All grades also talk about water use and conservation. The idea is to get kids to think about water in ways that affect their lives. I am available on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday starting April 12. Each visit usually lasts about 30 minutes for first and second grades and 45 to 60 minutes for third, fourth and fifth grade.
Please e-mail me with a couple of possible dates that work best for you. Try to book with another class. I like to do two classrooms at a time.
As far as tours go, I prefer to only take fourth or fifth grades on the tour. It is easier for them to understand, and it fits with my curriculum for that grade level.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
About the author
Jeff Kalmes is a Grade 7 operator and plant supervisor at the Town of Billerica Wastewater Treatment Plant. He has won the 2008 NEWEA Public Educator Award, the 2011 WEF National Public Educator Award and the 2015 NEWEA Operator of the Year Award. You can reach him at email@example.com.