Kids Display Their Water Knowledge Throughout the Calendar Year

A Florida utility’s K-12 student art calendar engages young people on water conservation – and in the bargain even reaches tourists

Kids Display Their Water Knowledge Throughout the Calendar Year

Examples of winning entries in the calendar art contest in Florida’s Polk County.

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An annual art calendar contest in Florida’s Polk County gets students and teachers thinking about water and its importance in their lives.

The contest was started in 2003 by Jacqueline Hollister, environmental specialist for the utility, who recognized a need for water conservation education in the Polk County schools.

The county, in Central Florida, serves 755,000 residents in a 2,000-square-mile area, and more people move in every day. The Southwest Regional Wastewater Treatment facility in the county uses a 41-mile piping system to distribute recycled wastewater for irrigation at more than 1,800 homes, two golf courses, a park and Tampa Electric Company cooling tower.

Broad participation

The contest starts shortly after the first of the year and ends in April, giving utility staff time to collect submissions, have them judged, and put the winning entries in the next year’s calendar.

An email goes out to educators and principals in all of the county’s schools, covering grades K-12. Public, private and charter schools and home-schooled children can enter.

Some teachers use the contest as a way to interest students in water conservation. Although any teacher can participate, art teachers send the most student submissions — from 100 to 300 in any given year.

Grade school teachers like to announce the contest before spring break so that the students can work on their art and messaging while they’re off from school. Once the 3,000 calendars are printed, they are available to residents, schools, and the general public. The calendar is also available in digital format.

Promoting the contest

The contest is promoted through the utility’s newsletter and social media. In addition, school boards send an email blast to all educators. Usually about 100 schools take part, and Hollister has worked with many of the teachers for the contest’s entire 20-year history. New teachers are added every year.

The utility tells residents about the contest at public events throughout the year, such as the 7 Rivers Water Festival. Winning entries have been printed on banners that hang at the events, and county staff members have discussed putting them on T-shirts and county vehicles to create more awareness and recognition.

Choosing the best

The utility has tried different judging ideas. At first, utility employees voted for their favorite submissions. Later, county residents judged the art and the themes at utility-sponsored events. Now, entries are posted on the utility’s conservation website, and residents vote online.

“This way, we are promoting the water-saving message not just to the students and educators, but also the public,” says Hollister. “It is important they conserve water as well. It is important for all ages to do their part in being good water stewards.”

Hollister is always amazed at the creativity and thought children put into their submissions. Many focus on wildlife and what could happen to creatures if the well were to run dry. They look to their community’s future needs and the importance of a clean water supply.

“With the combination of outstanding artistry and emotion that is evident in the students’ submissions, it really makes for a powerful message,” says Hollister.

Public education

The calendars are available free to anyone who asks and are available for pick up at the utility’s offices. Requests come in from all over the state, and from visitors outside the state and around the world.

People also pick them up at utility events; by looking at the artwork, they learn what they can do to preserve water. Staff members have been surprised at how popular the calendars are with visitors and tourists.

Because so much of the state relies on tourism, property owners put the calendars in their rental units. The artwork reminds guests to practice good conservation habits, such as taking a short shower or turning off the faucet when brushing their teeth.

“It’s also a boost for the children to take part even if they don’t win,” says Hollister. “For the children who do win, it gives them the confidence and reassurance that they have artistic talent.” Hollister notes that one student went on to major in art in college because of the contest.


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