Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007

Hands-on lessons for Shriver students

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Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Luis Balderrama and Laura Fuentes, students in Andrea Pinto’s third-grade class at Sargent Shriver Elementary School in Aspen Hill, watch as another student adds a pollutant to a jar of clean water to observe the effects of pollution on the water supply. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission played host to the youngsters at Brighton Dam in Brookeville on Thursday.
Sargent Shriver Elementary School students got anything but a watered-down lesson in protecting the environment during a field trip to Brighton Dam in Brookeville last week.

Over a two-day period on Nov. 7 and 8, about 100 third-graders from the Aspen Hill school participated in the outdoor field trip, which was sponsored by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Dawn Forsythe, community outreach manager for WSSC, said the trip was designed to provide students with real-life experiences about the environmental issues they are studying in school.

Using a large jar of water and several canisters filled with ‘‘pollutants,” one activity explained how everyday activities could affect the water in the Patuxent River.

Theresa Bond, a community outreach representative with WSSC, gave all of the children a ‘‘pollutant” and asked them to pour it into the jar of water when she called out the word printed on the label of their canister.

As they were called one by one, students poured in bits of leaves, oil from a motorboat, fertilizer, run off from a car wash and other items that turned the water brown and yellow.

Pronouncing the water unfit for humans and animals to drink or swim in, Bond asked the students who was responsible for polluting the water.

‘‘All the things that we do in our daily lives does this,” she said.

Most of the materials were not real — either food coloring or vinegar — but Bond explained that a lot of those things do end up in the water every day. Simple things, such as properly maintaining a car so it does not leak oil or antifreeze, could help keep the river cleaner, she said.

‘‘Water is life and without water we cannot survive,” Bond said, which earned her several vigorous nods from the students.

After all, she added, everyone is advised to drink six to eight glasses of water a day.

Following a lesson in the creatures that live and depend on the water in the Patuxent River to survive, students went on a tour of Brighton Dam with Sandy August, a WSSC community outreach representative.

Walking the students down to one side of the dam, she explained that they were looking at the Tridelphia Reservoir, which holds seven billion gallons of water, covering 800 acres, when it is full. The reservoir is fed by a watershed of 49,500 acres, of which nearly 3,000 acres are owned and managed by WSSC.

‘‘Some of that very water ends up in your home,” August said.

The average American, she explained, uses 65 to 70 gallons of water a day.

‘‘There’s no way to produce water, so we have to protect what we have,” August said.

On the other side of the dam, she told the students about how the water that they use is treated and cleaned so that it can be used again. Some of the children wrinkled their noses as she explained how the used water is filtered, cleaned through several processes and then released back into the Patuxent River.

As the students sat down to eat their lunches, Andrea Pinto, a third grade teacher at Sargent Shriver Elementary School, said the field trip fit in nicely with the students’ science unit on plants and social studies unit on natural resources.

‘‘My favorite part was just getting to be in the outdoors and learning to appreciate our natural resource that is the reservoir and the water in the reservoir that we all need everyday,” she said. ‘‘I think the kids learned about wetlands, plants and they learned about the geographical characteristics of the dam and how they can do their part to take care of our environment.”

Kyle Huott, an 8-year-old student from Silver Spring, and Bryan Sanchez, an 8-year-old student also from Silver Spring, said they had learned quite a bit from the day’s activities.

‘‘I learned that people use a lot of water every day,” Kyle said.

Bryan chimed in that his favorite activity was pouring his ‘‘pollutant” into the jar of water.

‘‘I learned that when you do stuff to the water, like have a party or wash your car, you can’t drink the water because it gets all polluted,” he said.