Successful Publishing

Portland Water District prints and distributes Discovering Water book written and designed by high school students from its service area.

Successful Publishing

Windham (Maine) High School students and support staff presented the first draft of the book, originally named Water Maine, at a statewide conference for school librarians. Shown from left are students Olivia Verrill, Dakota Ennis and Haley Stedt; Sarah Plummer, environmental education coordinator for the Portland Water District; Amy Wells Denecker, Windham High School librarian; Jeff Riddle, Windham High School teacher; Dorothy Hall-Riddle, middle school librarian project advisor; and students Julia Rand, Bailey Card and Emily Algeo.

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For more than 20 years, the Portland (Maine) Water District has had an in-school education program delivering lessons to about 1,000 middle school science students each year.

The utility provides teachers with lesson plans and curriculum on water pollution, stewardship and water quality. As part of the program, the students use a softcover book created by high school students and printed and distributed by the district.

The Portland Water District draws water from Sebago Lake and supplies 16% of Maine’s population. The utility also operates four wastewater treatment plants serving the cities of Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Gorham, Portland, Westbrook and Windham.

“We want the students to understand how the lake is the source for their drinking water and the role they play in keeping it clean,” says Sarah Plummer, environmental education coordinator. “A lot of the students live close to and around the lake, and it is our mission to raise awareness of how they can protect the lake and its ecosystem.”

Engaging students

While working with various school districts, Plummer met Jeff Riddle, an earth science teacher from Windham High School. About seven years ago, Riddle had a smaller-than-average advanced placement class of juniors. Riddle always found it important to expose students to outside professionals and careers and to engage them in projects that use their creativity and help them develop skills for later in life.  

To that end, he proposed that his class put together a book to augment what they were learning about water as part of the earth science curriculum. “He wanted the students to create a book that would be used for a long time, not just for that year,” Plummer says.

Enthusiastic about the challenge, the class planned what the book should look like and contain. Every student contributed to the research and writing; some also worked on its design, illustration, photography and other details. The book took two years to complete. Several juniors who worked on the book stayed with the project through their senior year. Middle and high school librarians worked with the students to make sure the content would be relatable and at the appropriate reading level.

Finished product

The book, Discovering Water, is 47 pages in softcover and contains seven chapters: Water in the World, The Water Cycle, Watersheds, Water Quality, Water Pollution, Maine’s Trout and Stewardship. The water utility funds the printing, graphic design, updates and distribution. It has been used for five years in the middle schools, several high schools and some adult education programs. 

Well-received by middle schoolers, it is continually updated and is now also out in an iPhone version, also a product of the Windham High School students, that includes videos and interactive quizzes for every chapter. Electronic and iPhone versions are available online, but the softcover is only available to students in the utility’s service areas and the Sebago Lake watershed. Several thousand copies have been distributed. The electronic version is at www.discoveringwater.org.

After the initial printing, the students presented the book and their work in creating it at a library conference in Augusta. They talked about their experience and what they learned from this project. One student and author, Dakota Ennis, interned at the district for a summer and is now in college studying environmental science.

Plummer observes, “A lot of work and a lot of heart went into this book, and it has left a lasting memory for the students and everyone involved in its creation.”   



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