Nearly 2,000 fifth-grade students, teachers and chaperones from more than 25 communities across the state participated in the 2017 Iowa Children’s Water Festival earlier this year. The hands-on field trip was held in various locations and buildings across the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny.
“The Iowa Children’s Water Festival plays an integral role in educating our youth about the importance of protecting Iowa’s water resources,” says Kristie Wildung, 2017 Iowa Children’s Water Festival event coordinator. “Fifth-grade students are old enough to understand the complexities of water and young enough to change their behavior based on what they learn. They understand the impact we all have on our natural resources and how important it is to conserve, protect and respect the world around us.”
2017 marked the 21st year of the Iowa Children’s Water Festival. The event is run entirely by volunteers and is sponsored by the Iowa Association of Water Agencies, as a part of its outreach in helping ensure Iowa residents have a clean, safe, dependable supply of drinking water.
Soaking up the information
Even though the festival has been around for more than 20 years, schools continue to participate for the first time. One of the first-timers this year was West Liberty Elementary School. Fifth-grade teacher Maideli Garcia brought four students to the 2016 event to learn about the field trip. After experiencing it with a small group, Garcia suggested to her co-workers that all four of the school’s fifth-grade classes, totaling around 100 students and teachers, should come this year.
“The overall organization of this event is amazing,” Garcia says. “I thought this would be a great opportunity for all our students to participate in this year. Many of our students have not attended such a large school-based learning activity or traveled that far for a field trip.”
The students and teachers from West Liberty had a long, but extremely busy day that started around 7:30 a.m. when they arrived at their school and ended when they returned home nearly 10 hours later.
Transportation costs associated with bringing two buses on the nearly 300-mile round trip from West Liberty to Ankeny were paid by West Liberty Youth Dream Catchers, a nonprofit supporting educational and mentoring opportunities for young children in the community.
Students eager to learn about water
Ed Moreno, a member of the nonprofit’s board and attendee of past Iowa Children’s Water Festivals, accompanied the West Liberty classes and was impressed with the students and how well prepared they were by their teachers to expand their knowledge about water cycles and watersheds.
“I was so excited when I learned all fifth-grade classes from West Liberty were approved to attend the water festival,” Moreno says. “The letters written by those four students who attended that first year to explain their experiences and what they learned were amazing. We knew all the students would have a great time this year, and we were proud to help with the transportation costs.”
Students from West Liberty heard presentations about soil conservation, best practices to ensure water quality and the life cycle of clams in Mississippi River, as well as watched water experiments, participated in hands-on activities in the exhibit hall and played “Dripmatics” water trivia game against other classes and their teachers.
“The biggest highlights of the festival were seeing how engaged our students were, and how supported we were to attend from our school, the parents and Dream Catchers,” Garcia says. “The students enjoyed the exhibit hall the most, because they were free to explore and learn about what was interesting to them. The festival met all my expectations, and I would definitely recommend it to any fifth-grade class.”
Interesting, fun educational activities
Schools participated in the event this year from as far away as Underwood near Iowa’s western boarder and Davenport on the eastern edge of the state. Other communities included Alden, Bondurant, Bussey, Clarion, Des Moines, Dysart, Grinnell, Johnston, Lacona, Moulton, Newton, Nevada, Ottumwa, State Center, Sully, Tipton, Traer, Underwood, Urbandale, Seymour, Villisca, Wapello, West Des Moines and West Liberty.
Students and teachers started arriving around 9 a.m. and the last schools left at 3 p.m.
Activities during the day included large group presentations, educational classroom activities, water games and an exhibit hall. “Our goal each year is to help Iowa’s youth become stewards of our water resources,” Wildung says. “With water quality becoming an increasingly important issue for the state of Iowa, this educational event provides an excellent opportunity for youth to not only learn in a classroom setting, but also in a hands-on environment.”
The 2018 Iowa Children’s Water Festival will be May 10. For more information, visit iowachildrenswaterfestival.org.
Leach is public information coordinator with USDA Rural Development in Iowa.