Water Wisdom for the Next Generation of Water Users and Water Professionals

Kids learn about the water cycle, the value of water, and more in presentations and experiments offered by an Indiana district.

Water Wisdom for the Next Generation of Water Users and Water Professionals

Tricia Haler makes her Wonderful Water presentation to students at Tri Elementary School in Straughn, Indiana.

Tricia Haler loves working in wastewater treatment, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

When Haler created a program for elementary students, she thought a few second-, third- and fourth-grade teachers might welcome her into their classrooms.

“I was hopeful that one or two teachers might be interested, and all nine of them were,” says Haler, district technician for the South Henry Regional Waste District based in Lewisville, Indiana. Haler, with help from Nancy Harmon, office manager, and Connie Stevens, CEO of the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water, came up with ideas for slides about the water cycle, pollution, and conservation, plus experiments for students to do in the classroom.

“We gave each of them a little stress-relief ball shaped like a water drop so they could take their water drop through the journey of the water cycle,” Haler says. “Then they talked about whether it was clean and what would happen when you made it dirty. They loved that.”

Grabbing attention

She encouraged the students to name their water drops; she named her own Wonderful and calls her presentation “Wonderful Water.” She used her experience as a mother and a former Girl Scouts leader in building her presentation.

“I’ve worked with kids,” she says. “I thought about what would grab their attention. I knew for sure I wanted to talk about water pollution and water conservation. I wanted to bring all that together and make it interesting to them and make sure to say something about our plant and what we do here.”

The South Henry district operates a 0.3 mgd wastewater treatment plant that serves a number of small towns and a major interchange on Interstate 70 about 50 miles east of Indianapolis. The plant provides secondary treatment and discharges to the Flatrock River. Haler started working at the plant part time and is now a full-time technician with a Class II operator license. “Surprisingly, it really became a passion. I love what I do,” Haler says.

Haler and either Harmon or Stevens divided the classes into two groups, one listening to the presentation and the other doing the experiment. Then the groups switched. The experiments involved filtering dirty water by pouring it through a coffee filter, a layer of sand and a layer of pea gravel.

Simple and inexpensive

“I was looking for something simple that wouldn’t cost a lot but would give them the idea of how it works,” Haler says. “Honestly, I was amazed at the response. I was amazed at how much fun they had. They couldn’t believe that you poured dirty water in and clean water came out.”

Students in some more advanced classes asked specific questions about the wastewater treatment process. “What they liked was hearing that the treatment is done by bugs. Then we had a picture of the bugs,” Haler says.

Stevens, who helped with some of the presentations, observes, “One thing we talked about is that the water that they’re using today is the same water that the dinosaurs used — that it’s all been recycled. We talked about the filtration that the earth naturally does and about the water and wastewater treatment plants that now help the process along.”

One student told Stevens that his father didn’t understand why water isn’t free since most of the world is covered with water. “I really loved that question,” Stevens says. “I explained that if you take a bucket to the nearest river and scoop up some water, that is free. But if you want the water cleaned and piped to your home, that costs money.”

Exploring careers

One aim of the program is to let the next generation know about jobs in water treatment. “There are so many careers in this industry,” Haler says. “I wanted to get out into the community and help young people understand what we do here and why it’s important.”

Haler, Harmon and Stevens have made presentations to some high school students about careers. Stevens talks about an apprenticeship program offered by the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water: “By the time they graduate from high school, we want them to know these options are out there. Even if they don’t choose this as a career, they’ll understand why water treatment and wastewater treatment are so important and that the jobs require a skill level and passionate, dedicated people.”

Haler is pleased with the support she received from the district board, which provided money for supplies. She was pleasantly surprised by the students’ and teachers’ reactions. She says the school wants to make the Wonderful Water presentations annual events. “I really didn’t think it would have the impact that it did,” Haler says. “I’m really excited about it.”


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