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Water Festival makes educational splash with students in Portland

Posted May 18, 2012, at 2:40 p.m.
Last modified May 18, 2012, at 4:54 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — At the annual Southern Maine Children’s Water Festival on Friday, approximately 700 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from around the state got to see the liquid from all sides.

Activities set up throughout University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus allowed the students to interact with water as a necessity of life for humans, as a home for some creatures and as a resource being threatened by pollution.

Groups of students cycled through different stations indoors and out at the campus, with topics ranging from water recreation to water quality testing to water conservation. The event was organized by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection along with a slate of business and nonprofit partners, which sent volunteers to man activity tables and run instructional games for the attending students.

In one activity, kids lugged one-gallon milk jugs of water to get a grasp on how much is used in each shower — between 15 and 25 gallons for a five-minute rinse — and by a flushed toilet — between two and seven gallons. In another, they used spray bottles over a model landscape to show how rain carries soils and pesticides downhill into water bodies.

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“They’re doing hands-on activities learning about water and picking up the animals that live in the marine environment in Maine,” said Wendy Garland, an environmental specialist with the DEP and a member of the festival’s organizing committee. “They’re going around campus and into different classrooms where they’re learning from different groups who are also involved with water and water conservation in the state of Maine.”

School groups that were admitted to the festival had to prove the activities would dovetail with the academic work they were doing leading into the event and in its aftermath. Garland said “there was a lot of competition to get into this year’s festival.”

“As part of the application, teachers had to say how they’d work this day into their curriculum,” said DEP communications director Samantha DePoy-Warren, “so it really does augment what’s going on in their classrooms. And sometimes lessons from outside the classroom stick better than those inside.”

That was what Corinna Beebe, who accompanied her daughter as a chaperone from Waterford, observed as well. She stood by while two boys from her daughter’s school learned how to tie flies at a Trout Unlimited table, one of many, in the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex.

“To watch these kids be totally engrossed and fascinated by it is totally awesome,” Beebe said. “It’s not something you see every day.”

Joining the DEP among the event’s sponsors and organizers were Poland Spring, Texas Instruments, the law firm Pierce Atwood, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Scarborough consulting firm Stantec, Maine Coastal Program and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, among others.

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