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Water Festival Making a Splash

I believe water will be the defining crisis of our century.

– Alexandra Cousteau, keynote speaker for the Flagstaff Festival of Science

Over 500 fourth graders, 23 NAU future teachers and many representatives from the City of Flagstaff, Willow Bend and other departments from NAU heard the recent challenge put forth by Alexandra Cousteau to give more attention to the water crisis. They all came to participate in Arizona Project Wet Water Festival, where they learned all about this precious resource.

The Water Festival, according to Kerry Schwartz, director of Arizona Project Wet through the University of Arizona, helps “students explore, through hands-on models or kinesthetic learning, concepts about water.” Students are exposed to four main subject areas: watersheds and water resources, ground water, the water cycle and water conservation. Students learn about the many aspects of water by actively participating in such activities as the “Incredible Journey,” where they enact becoming water molecules and experience their own unique water journeys.

Holding a Water Festival is a major endeavor, and for the past three years, it has been absent from Flagstaff. This year, thanks to the collaborative efforts of local manufacturer SCA Tissue and the City of Flagstaff, the Festival was brought back to Flagstaff and held at Foxglenn Park. Robin Harrington, water conservation and utilities program manager for the City of Flagstaff, says that a Water Festival is expensive, and she is grateful that SCA donated $2,500 to help bring the Festival back to Flagstaff. “Water and water education is important to the City of Flagstaff,” said Harrington, “but the City has had to pick the most urgent projects to fund, and since 2009, the City has been unable to fund the Water Festival, and may not be able to fund it in the future.”

Jim Manley is a NAU teacher involved in training teacher candidates and is a great fan of Arizona Project Wet. He feels the work of Project Wet “builds upon the students’ sense of curiosity and exploration and prepares students for the water of tomorrow.” He said, “it is more than a one-day event – students start learning before the event and after and take information home to their parents so they can learn too.”

Schwartz feels Manley is an extraordinary teacher and is excited that his class of future teachers was involved in this year’s Water Festival.

Mike Yoder, operations manager of SCA, said they are involved because of the company’s commitment to sustainability. “Our mill in Flagstaff has been recognized as the industry leader in using reclaimed water to minimize fresh water usage. Supporting the Project Wet festival is another way we can contribute to the community environmentally and educationally,” he said. Since 2007, SCA has contributed more than $20,000 in environmental grants to schools in the Flagstaff area. Yoder is also proud that SCA was named one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere for the third straight year.

To Schwartz, the Water Festival is the heart of Project Wet and requires the commitment and support of the local schools to make it successful. “Teachers are required to attend six hours of professional training to learn the pre- and post- lessons BEFORE the Water Festival,” Schwartz said. She acknowledges it is a big commitment for teachers, but said, “I have never heard a teacher say going to training and the Water Festival was a waste of time.” In fact, since 2000, Arizona Project Wet has engaged more than 48,156 fourth grade students in 22 Arizona communities and 1,897 teachers have worked with their students to enhance the learning experience by carrying the learning goals into the classroom.

Schwartz admits funding Project Wet Water Festivals is a challenge, which is why she is so excited that SCA and the City of Flagstaff came together to make it happen. Government funding for Project Wet Water Festivals has been limited in recent years, but Schwartz is looking to more corporate sponsorships to keep educating students who will be our future leaders and who she hopes will heed Cousteau’s words to “protect, manage and restore” our precious water. FBN

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