Fourth-Graders Compete in Water Ethics Contest

A contest for fourth-graders in northern Arizona encourages kids to express their idea of a water ethic in artwork and essays.
Fourth-Graders Compete in Water Ethics Contest
Fourth-grade teacher Jaimie Mimran poses with her class at Sechrist Elementary, where the overall winners and third-place essay winners attend school.

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Achild’s mind is like a sponge, ready to soak up information. How that information is processed depends on the child. Sometimes when kids’ imaginations are free to run wild, the results are extraordinary.

That’s the idea behind the Fourth Grade Water Ethic Contest, sponsored by the Coconino Plateau Watershed Partnership (CPWP), with Willow Bend Environmental Education Center. School classes and individual students throughout northern Arizona are invited.

To introduce them to the ethical use of water, students enter a contest in which they demonstrate the principle of responsible water use through artwork and essays. The ethic adopted by CPWP is simple: Water is life.

“We encourage kids to participate in a variety of ways,” says Amanda Acheson, sustainable building program manager for Coconino County Community Development. “They can write an essay or draw a picture covering just about anything in the water spectrum. We provide some guidance and instruction beforehand, but it’s really based on how water conservation is interpreted through the eyes of these students.”

Inquiring minds

The contest began in 2010. According to Acheson, fourth-graders were chosen because while the water narrative is touched on in the school science curriculum, conservation is a relatively new concept for them. The contest is a way to see how that concept is hitting home with students.

“That age is where a lot of kids form habits they will follow for years,” says Acheson. “The teachers do a great job talking about the value of water, but it’s sometimes hard to determine how much of those ideas they retain. Because this contest is so open and the kids can express their thoughts in such a variety of ways, it’s fun to see what pieces the kids find important, and what’s sticking with them.”

The call for entries goes out in September, and entries are due after about two months. The Coconino Plateau Watershed Partnership’s Public Outreach Committee chooses first-, second- and third-place winners in both the essays and artwork.

The winning students’ classes received treats: a pizza party for first place, an ice cream social for second, and a popcorn party for third. The winners receive other prizes, including a T-shirt featuring the winning artwork and movie tickets. The teachers of the winning entrants receive scholarships: $300 for first place, $200 for second and $100 for third, to be used for classroom materials.

“There’s incentive for the students and the teachers to get involved,” says Acheson. “Our goal is to make the contest an enhancement to the fourth-grade curriculum all over the area.”

Successful year

Ten schools took part in the 2015 contest, submitting more than 300 total entries. The prize for best overall went to Phoebe Curran and Aubrey Johnson of Jaimie Mimran’s class at Sechrist Elementary. Second place in art went to JaRon Fowler of Kori Moore’s Star School class. Second place in essays was won by Christian Kern-Dubois from Danielle Grimmitt’s class at Marshall Elementary. Third place in essays was won by Olivia Lanssens and Mina Khatibi, also students of Mimran. Third place in art was won by Faylee Howe from Marshall Elementary.

The students’ artwork is displayed at Flagstaff City Hall until mid-January, in the meeting room next to the city council chambers. The submissions are also used to promote water stewardship across northern Arizona, through posters created for classrooms, events and presentations.

Last year, for the first time, contest organizers created laminated water awareness signs from a 2014 winning entry and displayed them in bathroom areas at the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor’s Center, the City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, the City of Sedona, Northern Arizona University, and two elementary schools.

“The bathroom posters were a huge success, and we still get requests from parks and other municipal facilities asking where they can get them,” says Acheson. “Seeing the art helps educate the whole community, and the kids get really jazzed seeing their work on display all over northern Arizona.”

Free to imagine

The program works, says Acheson, because of its unregimented approach: “It’s cool because we’re basically giving them a blank slate. It’s the water narrative and what it means to them.

There really isn’t a wrong answer. It’s coming from those kids’ minds how they depict the water ethic.

“We can preach about water conservation, but there’s only so much information you can present. When adults read or see something that comes from a child’s mind and can see what concerns that child or even what scares them, it can really drive the point home.”

Acheson suggests that municipalities looking to start a similar program first contact the schools and find out what other groups are already working in the classroom. Often, schools work closely with wildlife and environmental education centers that a treatment plant staff could easily partner with to present the water narrative.

“It really goes back to our theme: Water is Life,” she says. “It’s all interconnected, and water is that connective tissue.”


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