Gilbert Public Schools learn about erosion at the Gilbert Water Festival on the grounds of the Gilbert Civic Center.

Nearly 1,700 fourth-graders from Gilbert Public Schools flooded the grounds of the Gilbert Civic Center on March 7 and 8 to splash, pour and learn all about one of Arizona’s most important resources at the Gilbert Water Festival.

The festival, in its seventh year, was designed by Arizona Project WET, a unit of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, and groups of students traveled to different tents for different water conservation-themed lessons that aligned with the content they are learning in school.

The four interactive stations were water conservation, watershed, groundwater and the water cycle, all of which Gilbert water conservation specialist Annikki Chamberlain said were extremely important lessons for the kids to learn at a young age.

“Living in Arizona, already in an arid climate, our water resources come from a long way away, and these kids are going to be the future residents of Arizona, so it’s really trying to ingrain that conservation culture as they grow up,” she said.

Volunteers guided the kids through water relay races, bracelet-making stations and model mountains to further understand the principles of erosion, among other exercises, in an active setting that organizers called crucial to creating a group of kids that will grow up and be conscious about water conservation.

Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels said the festival, along with the school-taught content, was foundational knowledge that may lead to further interest in science and technology, fields in which water is paramount.

“They can actually see the way water works, and the volunteers are so passionate about the subject, so you can see how interested it makes the kids in turn, it makes a big difference in the learning and absorption of material,” she said.

Many of the volunteers were local experts, working in earth science and water conservation, and could effectively teach the students important lessons they could not learn from just a textbook.

GPS Superintendent Shane McCord said he hopes the festival’s style of interactive learning is just the start of a trend that sees more hands-on lessons, especially for younger students who are eager to get out of the classroom whenever possible.

“Water conservation in our state is always something we’re concerned about. And having our students come out here, with a curriculum that aligns with the Arizona state standards and have a set of lessons that are hands-on and actually talk to individuals who have experience in that field,” he said. “It’s about the best type of education our students can get.”

And, from all accounts, the teachers appreciate the lessons, too, as the children come back to the classroom reinvigorated and excited to continue learning lessons for days after the festival.

“I think the teachers have a limited time and a lot of stuff that the kids need to learn,” Chamberlain said. “By doing it hands-on, during a short but intense field trip, it maximizes the limited time with the kids. And, since it’s fun, the kids will remember it, too.”

If the hundreds of fourth-graders walk away with just one lesson, volunteer Kara Holyoak, a Gilbert resident, said she hopes the kids understand just how fortunate they are to have readily available water, despite such a dry climate, and how much effort it takes to make that possible.

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