May 12, 2010

On a warm, sunny day after recent flood-causing rainfall, dozens of eighth-graders from Louisville’s Highland Middle School watched debris float down a swollen Ohio River. They were touring the Louisville Water Company, culminating a year-long educational project aimed at showing students the big water picture.

Toyota began sponsoring 4-H20 Community Projects in 2008. Grant recipients use the funds to educate students about the water cycle.  Watching the debris float down the river caused many of the students to think about what they’ve learned throughout the year, and some were surprised the water could eventually be clean enough to drink.

“I saw a lot of trash in the river today – stuff that doesn’t belong in there,” said Keosha Jackson, eighth-grader at Highland Middle School. “But the water coming out of my faucet seems so clean, so it makes me think about the processes we learned about. I think it’s really cool that you can take gunky water and make it into something good for us.”

Jackson and her classmates have spent the past school year learning about the water cycle from their science teachers as well as Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents in Jefferson County.  Cynthia Blair, Jefferson County 4-H extension assistant said the trip to Louisville Water Company really put it all together for them and showed them how it all works –how the water is pumped from the river and then sent to a reservoir before it’s ultimately filtered, treated and ready for drinking.

“We’ve heard that Louisville water company is No. 1 in the United States,” she said. “People come from everywhere to learn how we do it here. So the students are learning from the best, and the teachers have mentioned that the curriculum leading up to this has fit right into their plans.”

Eighth-grade teacher Bill Barger said he’s impressed at the way each lesson has fit right into his curriculum and even prepared students for the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System.

“We were able to do a quick hit on a lot of (water) subjects,” he said. “It’s a big reality check for the students to see where their drinking water comes from.”

Barger was in his second year of working with Cooperative Extension on the Toyota grant, and he said he’d like to continue next school year.

“At Highland, we have a rotating teaching system, so next year I’ll teach sixth-graders,” he said. “The (grant) program is very flexible, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for any of the grades at the school.”

Jefferson County Extension Agent for 4H Youth Development Dennis Ruhl said he’s been pleased by the way the program has delivered throughout the school year.

“Our goal was to get these students to see the big picture—to do more than learn about it in the classroom,” he said. “They need to know what it takes to make a big city like Louisville actually run. We are so thankful we’ve been able to get them out (of the classroom) to see this.”