Festival provides lessons about water

June 6, 2013

Fifth graders from Holyoke visit a fortune teller at the Baystate Children's Water Festival at HCC. Austin Barnard, a fifth grader from Westfield, holds the edible aquifer he made at the Baystate Children's Water Festival at HCC.

The rules of the game were simple: See how many piles of plastic dog droppings you could scoop up in 30 seconds. The goal: 10. The prize: a Tootsie Roll.

The lesson was a simple one too:

"Why should you scoop up poop?" asked Julie Bullock, a volunteer at the 2013 Baystate Children's Water Festival. "Because it has bacteria in it, and it'll make you sick if it gets into the water."

The Scoop the Poop game was just one of dozens of activities and demonstrations at the day-long festival, which brought nearly 200 volunteers and 1,500 fifth graders from schools in Holyoke, Chicopee, Westfield, Wilbraham, Hampden and Warren to Holyoke Community College on Thursday, June 6.

Students learned about drinking water, groundwater, watersheds, surface water, and water quality through presentations and activities led by water and natural resource experts from local, state, and national organizations.

"The lesson we hope they take away is that water resources are precious and finite and they need to do what they can to preserve them," said festival organizer Margaret Martens, program director of the Water Systems Council, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. "We also know how much kids like to tell their parents what to do. We know they're sharing these lessons with the people they go home to."

The entire festival, including T-shirts for all participants and the cost of the buses that transported the students to HCC, was paid for by the Water Systems Council and dozens of water industry sponsors.

Students under the activity tent tossed bean bags into toilet bowls, got to pet a corn snake, answered questions for prizes at the Water Wheel of Fortune and learned about water tension by trying to see how many paper clips they could float on the surface of a cup of water.

At the stream table, students built dams out of sand and watched how easily water tears them down.

"We're trying to show kids the energy that water has in it," said Henry Boyd, a volunteer from Carmel, N.Y., who works with the Empire State Water Drilling Association. "You can't stop the water."

Students learned about aquatic invertebrates, fish ladders, invasive plants, and the difference between bottled water and tap water; they built rain sticks to take home and, in one of the most popular activities, constructed, and then consumed, edible aquifers out of Sprite, vanilla ice cream, and sprinkles. They were also treated to a free concert from singer-songwriter and environmental activist Tom Chapin in HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater.

At another popular station, participants were encased in giant bubbles raised over their heads from a mixture of dish soap, glycerin and water. The lesson there escaped the volunteer running that station.

"Most of the things here are educational," said Martens, "but some of them are just for fun."

Photos: (Left) Students visit the Water Fortune Teller station at the Baystate Children's Water Festival held at Holyoke Community College. (Right) Austin Barnard, a fifth grader from Westfield, holds up the edible aquifer he made at the festival.


Holyoke Community College
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