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Chester County Press

Lessons about keeping water clean at Hillendale Elementary

04/25/2016 11:26AM ● By J. Chambless

Students look for specimens of stream insects in water.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The fourth graders at Hillendale Elementary School got an Earth Day lesson on taking care of our water resources on April 22, along with plenty of chances to pour icky stuff into containers and look for squishy bugs.

The Red Streams Blue program, created and led by Constance Nye, came to Hillendale at the invitation of principal Steve Dissinger. The two-hour program, sponsored by the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, had eight stations with hands-on activities. Groups of fourth-graders got to explore each station, but first, Nye enlisted Dissinger in a demonstration of how much of our bodies are made of water. Holding up a shower curtain higher and lower in front of Dissinger, she asked for estimates, finally ending at 60 percent.

“Water is a huge part of who we are,” Nye said. “Now, how many of you had a drink of water today? How many cooked something with water? Brushed your teeth? Went to the potty?”

After the giggling died down, Nye said, “We use water every single day. Today, you're going to be thinking about water.”

As a special guest, Robert G. Struble, Jr., the watershed conservation director at the Red Clay Alliance, explained how many of the streams in the 330-square-mile local watershed were marked on a map in red because they are substandard. “Let's make those red streams blue,” Struble said.

Nye added, “Let's go become watershed warriors!” as the students split into groups and spent a few minutes at each station.

Parent volunteers explained each activity and asked questions as the students eagerly raised their hands and peered at displays like a dollhouse with a driveway and lawn. Students were asked what happens to the rainwater that runs off a roof or a driveway.

One station had insects squirming in cups full of water that the students had to identify. One tray had stream channels representing the local watershed, and the instructor poured liquid into the streams to show how it flowed down from the high points. One table had a tall column of stones and dirt. Students poured dirty water into the top and then saw how the stones and earth filtered out some of the sediments before it became “ground water” at the bottom of the column.

Two stations outside had fun, messy activities. At one, students stirred red food coloring, chocolate syrup and other liquids into a jug of water and then poured it down a trough, showing how things like pesticides, fertilizer, soap and animal waste end up in the water supply. Nearby, students looked at aerial maps of Chester County from 1970 and 2010 to see how construction and development have altered the landscape. Then they got to pour muddy water on a bare board, and on a board covered with artificial turf and leaves, to show how things like grass and plantings hold back water from running downhill.

Along with comments of “Cool!” “Gross!” and “That's disgusting!” were lasting lessons in sediment filtration and the importance of trees.

“What can we do?” one instructor asked her group after the simulated pollutants were mixed into a jug of water.

“Be careful what you put in the water!” one student enthusiastically answered.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].