The Team Treatment

Portland Water District plant operators worked closely with middle school students to create an educational video on the treatment process.
The Team Treatment
The video features kids describing the wastewater treatment process.

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Teamwork was the byword last year as wastewater operators, a sixth grade science class and a college student came together to create a 10-minute video that is now a key element in the Wastewater 101 educators’ kit the Portland (Maine) Water District makes available to teachers in the community.

Parts of the video were conceived and scripted by the students of Jill Roland at King Middle School. Ellis Ducharme, a former King student now attending the New England School of Communications, shot and produced the on-site footage at the district’s East End Wastewater Treatment Plant. Chief operator Steve Sloan and his team provided the technical expertise and access to the facility. Lynne Richard, former environmental educator for the district, coordinated the entire project.

A close look

The Wastewater 101 video includes many close-up views of the treatment process from the headworks all the way through the plant. Ducharme made repeated visits to make sure he had footage that would do the process justice. “We took him around all the areas he wanted to film, and he was great,” says Sloan. “Our guys answered a lot of questions and showed him everything he wanted to see.”

Michelle Clements, district public relations director, says, “I think the video was a really interesting partnership with all of the people involved.” The school joined the partnership when students in one of Roland’s classes decided to create a video as a capstone “Learning Expedition” for the 2011-12 school year.

For their expeditions, all four science classes were assigned to plan and carry out community projects that involved science, and one class wanted to do a video about water resources. When Roland contacted PWD about the project, Richard told her the project would fit well with one she was already working on with Ducharme.

In the end, the students’ work fit into Ducharme’s video in what Clements and Roland describe as a great example of teamwork. The treatment operators allowed the students to study the treatment process thoroughly, learning much more than they could on a regular tour.

Richard also gave the students a copy of Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants: A Field Study Training Program, Volume 1, a manual produced by Cal State Sacramento. “We gave them the book so they could get familiar with the basic terminology and could learn as they went along on the project,” Richard says.

Preproduction phase

King Middle School technology integrator David Grant worked closely with the students after they completed their field work, helping them organize their information, plan their shots and script their segments. Clements praised the teachers for their ability to get the entire class involved: “Even the kids who weren’t on-screen in the video did work off-screen.” From doing research and images to helping with the script, the students all had jobs to do.

Although Roland handled the science end of the project, Grant was the teacher who tied the package together. “He was really responsible for the physical completion on our part of the video,” Roland says. “The students did all of their writing in my class, and David worked with them on their video. Then we turned it over to Ellis Ducharme.”

Ducharme combined the students’ work with his own video from the treatment plant, supplemented by narration from Richard. The final product delivers a succinct lesson on wastewater treatment with an approach designed to hold middle school students’ attention.

“We really wanted this to supplement the tours and to help people coming in without any background,” says Clements. “And for some kids, the tours are not accessible. This helps them learn without getting on a bus.”

Kit for instructors

When the video screened on Jan. 4 at the King library, it became the final piece in the Wastewater 101 educator’s kit. Geared to grades 3-8, the kit is largely a compilation of materials that had been available as individual items. “That kit put everything together in one neat package for teachers,” says Clements.

The kit includes a binder containing background information on the district, lesson plans and more. It helps students learn how wastewater treatment combines science, technology, engineering, math and environmental stewardship with protection of public health.

The district loans equipment teachers can use. An EnviroScape Watershed model and groundwater display models are available, as are macroinvertebrate sampling buckets; nets and trays; pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate and conductivity test kits; thermometers; a flowmeter; and turbidity tubes.

The district also offers $75 Water Education Mini-Grants for educators. Teachers can use them to buy water education materials including print and digital media, water-related curriculum materials, testing equipment for an outdoor classroom, plants for community service projects to protect water quality and transportation for field trips. In return, the district asks only for feedback, from class reports or student journal entries to drawings, photos or videos that show how the teachers and students benefited.


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