Field Trips On Wheels: Mobile Education Center Teaches Students About Water Treatment

Illinois American Water’s Mobile Education Center visits schools and educates students about water treatment and the water cycle

Field Trips On Wheels: Mobile Education Center Teaches Students About Water Treatment

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The environmental compliance and water quality team at Illinois American Water visits schools throughout the year to educate students about the water cycle, water service and wise water use. However, Randy Pankiewicz, department director, envisioned expanding the program by bringing the classroom to the kids.

“Randy asked me to help design a custom-built barrier-free access trailer,” says Lori Stenzel, senior water quality and environmental compliance specialist. She met with a representative of a trailer company, who suggested an 18- by 8.5-foot-wide concession trailer with two serving windows. When fitted out, the trailer accommodates 20 people.

“Our design has two dropdown shelves,” Stenzel says. “One serves as a bench with cabinets above, a sink at the rear, and water and graywater tanks underneath it.” The Mobile Education Center hit the Illinois highways in 2014, traveling to schools and 20 community events. Water quality supervisors from Illinois American Water’s five regions staff the trailer when it is in their area.

“We show the treatment train video on a giant TV screen above the bench, then demonstrate the process using Mississippi River water in jar testers,” says Stenzel. “We add a coagulant to show flocculation and clarification and then illustrate filtration using a granular activated carbon, sand and rock filter.”

Disinfection is a hands-on activity. As Stenzel talks about chlorine, students line up at two tables in front of the trailer and receive a vial of water. They test the chlorine levels using pocket colorimeters. “I warn the kids to be careful because each instrument costs as much as an iPhone,” she says. “They relate to that.”

How much else they comprehend, kindergarteners, was revealed after Stenzel’s team did the water cycle program at a Belleville park. The next day the kindergarten counselor took the kids to a splash pad water park and they saw a bucket spilling water. “Look!” they told the counselor, “It’s the water cycle!”

When that story came back to her, it was priceless, says Stenzel. “That is the best outcome we could ask for.”

The trailer won the 2015 Outreach Award from the Illinois Section AWWA and second place in the 2015 National Association of Water Companies Management Innovation Awards.


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