Reaching Open Minds

Wastewater operators play a key role in an annual water festival in Ontario that offers grade-school students hands-on learning experiences.
Reaching Open Minds
Credit Valley Conservation Authority, a Peel Region partner, runs an activity where students learn about fish habitats.

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With more than 50 activities, there is a lot for kids to choose from at the annual weeklong Peel Children's Water Festival.

The event educates students from the areas of Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga, Ontario, about the importance of water quality, quantity and sustainability. Tents set up around the Heart Lake Conservation Area in Brampton house activities that revolve around water, wastewater and other environmental matters.

"It's all based on the Ontario curriculum for grades 2-5," says Angela Partynski, technical analyst in environmental education with the Regional Municipality of Peel. "The idea is that what the students are learning in the classroom is tied in at the festival. It's hands-on activities relating to what they're already learning."

Outside help

Plant staff members at the region's G.E. Booth Lakeview Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Clarkson Wastewater Treatment Facility (180 mgd combined capacity serving 1.3 million people) provide information as a basis for the activities.

The operators make sure the information is accurate. They also help run the Sewer Detectives exercise. "Because there are expensive cameras involved, we want to ensure that proper operators are using them," says Kristina Hatton, festival coordinator.

"The operators have a model they created that they use in their own training with each other. It shows the piping coming from a home to the street. They put in objects that would become obstructions, such as tree roots or rags. Then they put the lateral push camera down, so students can look through the clear pipe and also see on a screen what the camera sees."

Wastewater operator Adam Wiltschek helps out at the festival. "I ran the Sewer Detectives activity," he says. "Another wastewater operator and I set up a PVC model of a lateral system similar to the ones used in private homes to demonstrate how the region staff would perform an inspection using a mini push camera.

"We added long grass and inserted it into the joints to resemble roots, which are a very common issue we come across. We explained what the protocol is when we find something of that nature. I think people enjoyed the visual aspect of our tutorial."

An information booth at the festival highlights wastewater plant tours.

Local public high school students man the activity booths. "They are trained before the festival," says Hatton. "We conduct in-class presentations to prepare them."

Supervisor of environmental education Carol Chaput adds: "It's really great when we get involvement from high school kids who are part of the 'green' clubs at their schools. They tend to have a little more passion. We're looking to foster that environmental stewardship in high school students, as well."

What to do?

Teachers bring their students to the end-of-the-year festival to wrap up what they learned in the classroom. "Each session runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day," says Hatton. "We get about 1,000 elementary students each day. When the teachers pre-register, they choose which activities relate to their curriculum, depending on the grade they have."

Activities incorporate observation and hands-on learning. In Where Does It Go When You Go?, students view a wastewater treatment model to see what happens to their waste after it leaves their homes.

Septic Sights, staffed by City of Brampton employees, looks at where wastewater goes if the home is not connected to the municipal sewer system. Staff members put ping-pong-size colored plastic balls down a toilet so that students can watch them travel through the sewer pipes, into the septic tank, and then into the soil treatment system.

The work of setting up and staffing the festival is funded from government and private sources. "We have an operating fund of $250,000 through the Region of Peel," says Chaput. "We include arranging the buses to get the students to and from their classrooms, and the tents and equipment for the festival.

"We obtain about $30,000 annually in sponsorships. Sponsors, such as the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Children's Water Education Council, are very supportive of the festival because it showcases water and wastewater treatment, and everything that is environmentally relevant these days."

Join together

Hatton sees the festival serving a valuable purpose with lasting benefits. "It's important, especially with the age group we're working with, to foster these ideas early on and create positive habits, so it's not something we have to battle with later when they are older," she says. "Their minds are really open to this kind of stuff right now. We hear stories about the kids going home and talking to their parents about what is the right thing to do, so they're educating their parents, as well."

Wiltschek agrees: "I believe that educating young people early on is always the best way to get certain messages across later in life. Our clean water supply and how we deal with our wastewater plays a significant role in keeping our environment safe and clean for other generations. These kids are learning something that my generation was not taught until much later on, so I hope that they will have a greater appreciation for the environment after spending the day with our staff."


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