All About The Scouts

A FLUSH program in Michigan offering treatment plant tours meets early success and looks to expand beyond state borders.
All About The Scouts
Claudette Wizniuk from the Macomb County Public Works Office teaches Girl Scouts about urban pollution and how it enters watersheds during rainstorms. She made the presentation at the Mount Clemens Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Alove of field trips and educating children, along with an engaged work environment and supportive co-workers enabled Angella Breitenbeck of Paragon Laboratories in Livonia, Mich., to develop the FLUSH program for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

By introducing them to the science of water and water infrastructure through tours of water and wastewater facilities, the program satisfies some criteria for badges and awards. Breitenbeck created FLUSH — for Filtration, Let large particles settle, Usable fertilizer, Sterilization, and Healthy discharge water — to catch the attention of youngsters and their parents.

Launched in 2013, the program had five tours in March and April and six in September, drawing 130 Scouts and 59 adults. “The reaction from everyone was overwhelming,” says Breitenbeck. “Scouts who couldn’t attend a tour emailed to ask when we would hold another. Based on demand, there is a hunger for this kind of information.”

Powerful networks

The idea for FLUSH came to Breitenbeck when she attended a personal and professional development course as part of the company’s Centrality 2.0 staff development program. “The courses help Paragon maintain a corporate culture that encourages people to think about what is important to them, then take action,” she says.

Her 4- and 6-year-old children inspired her contribution. The catalyst was excitement she felt when they asked questions about science or wanted to do experiments. She broached the idea for FLUSH at a meeting of the Michigan Water Environment Association (MWEA) Laboratory Practice Committee. The members — drinking water and wastewater professionals — gave it their full support and agreed to promote the tours in more areas of the state.

Breitenbeck next approached the MWEA and American Water Works Association’s joint Youth Education Committee, which she chairs. They welcomed FLUSH into educational activities designed to interest people in becoming water and wastewater professionals.

Through work contacts, Breitenbeck found Girl Scout Council leaders, who passed details of the program to local troops. The program specialist for the local Boy Scout council posted a statewide online registration page. “FLUSH is a unique program because nothing like it exists in either Scouting agenda,” says Breitenbeck. “Even many schools no longer offer field trips to water and wastewater treatment facilities, so it’s very exciting for kids to get inside them."

Making it fun

Group sizes depend on the facility, but Breitenbeck recommends no more than 25 to 30 children (age 8 or older) so they and their parents or chaperones can hear above the noise. “We encourage adults to come because they are just as amazed as the kids,” says Breitenbeck. “No one realizes the fantastic job water and wastewater operators do to ensure high-quality products.”

Above all, the experience must be fun. The 60- to 90-minute tours work best when operators tailor them to their facilities: “Give them creative license and the kids love the result.”

Tours should include hands-on activities. “When children can’t enter the laboratory, try setting up exhibits in a lunch room,” says Breitenbeck. “Some plants have microscopes with slides, while others have pictures of slides showing creepy-crawlies peeking back.”

A water filtration plant using enzyme substrate demonstrated testing for coliform bacteria using Colilert reagent. “The kids were astonished when the sample turned yellow and fluoresced,” says Breitenbeck. A wastewater treatment plant demonstrated what is flushable by putting a sheet of bathroom tissue in one clear bottle of water and a disposable wipe in another bottle. Scouts then shook the bottles, trying to break up the materials.

The guide at the Mount Clemens Water Filtration Plant invited Macomb County environmental educators to participate. They brought a water pollution model on which Scouts added food coloring and paper debris, then made it rain to demonstrate how pollution enters waterways. The educators also gave a slide presentation about watersheds.

Lessons learned

While the FLUSH program is free, Breitenbeck recommends offering something tangible to encourage attendance. Boy Scouts received a FLUSH patch and paid $3 to cover the cost when registering. She is working with the local Girl Scout council to develop a similar memento.

“Last year taught us that timing is critical for Scouts troops,” says Breitenbeck. “Our 2013 March tours worked out, but it was chilly with snow on the ground. Therefore, we scheduled our first tour this year in early May. We avoid dates closer to the end of the school year, because then turnout decreases. Our September 2013 tours were too early for many Scout groups to mobilize, so we moved them to October.”

Ripples from the FLUSH program have traveled far and fast. The program became part of the 2014-2015 Heart of Michigan Girl Scout Source Book, a mailer listing all events that help fulfill criteria for badges. Promotional efforts by the MWEA expanded the program to neighboring states, and the association plans to approach parent organizations.

“I’d love to see FLUSH go nationwide,” says Breitenbeck. “There is no reason that it shouldn’t. Water treatment happens all over.” To learn more about FLUSH and how to bring it to your area, contact Breitenbeck at 734/469-5610 or angellab@paragonlaboratories.com.



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