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Getting their feet wet (copy)

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Editor's note: This story first published in the May 10, 2022, edition of The Columbus Telegram.

Three local schools have been selected to participate in this year’s Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival on May 17 at Central Community College in Grand Island, an annual conservation and education event since 1988.

Humphrey St. Francis, Platte Center Elementary School (two groups) and St. Anthony’s Elementary School have all been invited to this interactive educational experience. 

The festival, according to Central Platte Natural Resources District Information and Education Specialist Marcia Lee, is meant to educate children on the groundwater systems and the professions, concerns and wildlife therein.

“We try to give them activities, talk about the aquifer, try to give them a game show, we have a storyteller, hands on stuff like building their own aquifers, we teach them about wildlife. We try to give them different topics," Lee said.

The event features a wide range of professionals with some manner of connection to groundwater who give kids activities that will help them understand and remember water’s importance, and the value of understanding it, appreciating it and conserving it.

“Everyone’s responsible for how much water we use and keeping drinking water clean is better for everybody,” Lee said.

The festival has taken place since 1988 at the Central Community College buildings when students are out for the semester, at no cost to the participating schools. It was the first of its kind, and Lee said the concept has been recreated in 42 states and even other countries.

“When it was first set up, Central Community College wanted to host, this is the center of the state, and all at no cost. We do it the week after graduation so that we have the place to ourselves,” Lee said.

Activities range from year to year, Lee said. Some appearing this year are “gooey garbage” -- where kids make a simulated landfill to observe the effects of runoff into the groundwater system, an appearance from tall-tale hero Febold Feboldson, various trivia games, an experience with the Raptor Connection and a rain stick activity with Noyes Art Gallery out of Lincoln.

Schools are randomly chosen, and the selected schools spaced out through the years so as to allow every school interested a chance to participate.

One of the teachers taking kids to the festival, Haley Schrage from Humphrey St. Francis, said she remembered going when she was in fifth grade.

“They had us stand in this kiddie pool thing and made a big bubble over us,” Schrage said, laughing.

Schrage, now a fifth grade teacher, said she wants her students to understand the value of Nebraska’s groundwater system, and thinks this is a good way to introduce them to that.

“There’s a lot of scientific value in this about Nebraska and water use and how it affects everything,” Schrage said. “When I got the email, I remembered it. I was like ‘I went to that!’ so that was kind of cool.”

Charlotte Beran, fifth grade science teacher at St. Anthony’s, said these kind of projects are especially effective in education.

“The kids are doing something, they’re not just sitting listening to lectures," she said. "I remember once they did an ice cream parfait to show how the groundwater cycle works.”

Beran, who has taken classes to the festival in the past, said the festival’s target audience of fifth graders works because the kids still have that wonder and desire to solve problems and answer questions.

“At this age, kids are still curious. When they learn things at this age, they’re still kind of amazed at how the world works and how we relate to it,” Beran said.

Beran added that this is especially important now that kids aren't as involved in a lot of the agricultural or industrial uses of water anymore, yet it remains just as important in Nebraskans' daily lives.

"Water is essential for all our lives. We have to have water," Beran said.

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