A State Association Models a Quality Outreach Program Others Could Emulate

NYWEA presenters deliver hands-on wastewater education to fifth-graders at a county soil and water conservation field day event.

A State Association Models a Quality Outreach Program Others Could Emulate

Madison Quinn, rear left, New York Water Environment Association communications manager, and Tanya May Jennings, rear right, operator certification administrator, are shown with fifth-graders at the Conservation Field Day hosted by Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District.

A part of public outreach for clean-water industry groups is taking part in community events.

To that end, speakers from the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) gave presentations last September at the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation Field Day. There, more than 100 fifth-graders learned the importance of wastewater treatment and their own role as good stewards of the environment.

Diverse education

In its 30th year, the Field Day event at Selkirk Shores State Park in Pulaski took on a range of topics to engage the students. Besides the NYWEA presentation, topics included tree identification and growth, bird-watching, wildlife rehabilitation and insect identification.

The nearly 500 student attendees were each assigned to five of the 20 available stations. Before the event, teachers received the list of the stations and briefed the students on them. The day started with three presentations in the morning; two more followed after lunch. Madison Quinn, NYWEA communications manager, and Tanya Jennings, operator certification administrator, presented “Bringing Water to the Classroom.”

Working model

Using a unique 3D EnviroScape model of where water goes after it goes down the drain, Quinn and Jennings gave an overview of the wastewater process. Using the plastic model, which simulates a city with homes, business buildings and a wastewater treatment plant, the children followed the water’s path.

A cocoa/oatmeal mix represented the wastewater that enters the sewer system. White rice represented items in wastewater that do not disintegrate and are caught in the model’s screens (akin to those at the treatment plant). The children saw how those items cause problems.

A blue liquid like Kool-Aid was added to the wastewater arriving at the plant in the model to simulate chlorine and the chlorination process. After that, freshwater was added to simulate dechlorination.

Turtles rescued

Along with the model presentation, Jennings displayed large poster boards of each process in an expanded view. She highlighted true stories to help the student relate to the process steps. For example, she told how several turtles were caught in a wastewater treatment plant’s screens in New York City and how the operators rescued them. The workers kept them as pets at the plant, and they lived long and happy lives.

“Through the model and the items we add in, the children see screening, grit removal, primary settling, biological treatment, secondary settling, disinfection and chlorination, and the role each plays in cleaning the water,” Quinn says.

Careers to consider

The NYWEA presentations opened the students’ eyes to the importance of the treatment operator profession. They also learned about other positions in the water industry, including scientists and engineers. After the presentations, NYWEA encourages the teachers to visit their local treatment plants so that the children can see how the processes work in real life.

In addition to public outreach and speaking engagements, NYWEA, which has 2,600 members, offers a strong scholarship program for high school students pursing college degrees in environmental sciences. Since that program began in 1998, NYWEA has awarded $476,000 in scholarships to 190 recipients — more than $50,000 to 10 students in 2018 alone.


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