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Today's Family Magazine

NEORSD offers fun, hands-on learning with water education

Feb 18, 2020 11:53AM

Shaker Heights Elementary 4th grade students capstone project.

By Mary Flenner

Have your kids ever asked you what happens when you flush the toilet?  Where does it go?  Where do the pipes lead?  What happens next?

There’s a lot of mystery in the world of our sewers, for both adults and children alike.  The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) wants to lift the veil on the mystery of the underground world of wastewater treatment and teach kids about what they do and why it’s important.

The NEORSD offers the Speakers Bureau, which educates students—as well as adults—about the wastewater treatment process and much more.  Their experts visit schools and present to students, whether it be an entire grade, a classroom or an environmental club.

Ebony Hood, NEORSD community relations specialist says, “Science is an underserved topic in our schools.  We talk about what it means to have an environmentally-literate community.  This topic may be something that teachers aren’t comfortable with in a classroom.  So often it’s educators reaching out to us who love science and want their students to know things like: what is the urban water cycle, where does water come from, where does it go after we use it, how is it treated and who treats it.  We’re making sure science is brought to the forefront of it all.”

Their educators also speak about stormwater, pollution, water quality, water conservation and what fish and bugs can tell us about our water.   The NEORSD Speakers Bureau also likes to give kids hands-on experience when they visit, so they engage in lots of fun activities and experiments, all tailored to the age group.

Students get the opportunity to be lab analysts and conduct experiments.  Kids can take wastewater through the cleaning process or they may add polymer to a liquid to form a solid.  The NEORSD may set up a large group station where students put various items through a test to find out “Is it water?”  Students also perform pH strip tests and discuss the importance of safety with toxic chemicals.

“We’re connecting what’s underneath your cabinets that can be a danger and what it means if those things go down your drain…. Grease and oil down the drain is also a huge issue… so we conduct a lava lamp experiment to illustrate what it means when it goes through our treatment,” says Hood. 

“For little ones, it’s all about learning the properties of water: solid, liquid, gases.  We also talk about germs and washing hands.  We’ll host a mock field trip and go around the building and look for pipes,” she continues.

Many students find inspiration from these visits, and the NEORSD also provides career information. “The Sewer District is top to bottom STEM careers, so we’re hoping to find a future audience to think about us as a possible job someday.  It’s a way to have fun with the disgusting work we do,” she laughs.  “No one is celebrating the sewers, so we talk about how wastewater treatment is a job someone has to do and how important that job is… what it means to be able to turn on your water and have clean water.”

“The other beautiful thing I love about northeast Ohio is that we have a lake.  So we discuss what it means to have a great lake and why that fresh water resource matters.”

In addition to school visits, they also offer wastewater treatment plant tours for older students and conduct field experiences at on-site locations such as the Doan Brook Watershed.

The NEORSD Speakers Bureau is also a unique option for group leaders, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  If you’re a troop leader interested in learning more, their educators can accommodate evenings and weekend requests and often meet at libraries or community centers.  They are also available to be used as subject matter experts as judges in science contests.

To get more information about the NEORSD’s Speaker Bureau, visit NEORSD.org/speaker or call Ebony Hood at (216) 881-6600 ext. 6811.