What happens when a Water Resource Engineer and a Second Grade Teacher are good friends? A collaboration bringing flood water management to 2nd graders, of course!

Civiltech Water Resources Engineer, Weronika Moskal, P.E., CFM, made a splash utilizing her flood management expertise and a hands-on flood demonstration in presentations to elementary school kids. Weronika presented a flood management model at both at Civiltech’s Take Your Child to Work Day in April, and to six 2nd grade classes at Westgate Elementary in Arlington Heights in May.

Weronika had discovered the WARD’s Stormwater Floodplain Model at the recent Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management (IAFSM) conference and learned that it was available to borrow for educational outreach events. Weronika and a good friend who is a 2nd grade teacher had previously discussed collaborating on a water resources related activity during the school’s Erosion, Land, and Water unit. The flood model provided the perfect outreach tool. Her friend pitched the idea to the school’s principal and the other 2nd grade teachers, and the program was launched.

The model includes a replica of a hilly terrain with a river running through it. At one end is a section that can represent several surface conditions including a natural water retention area created with green sponges, an impervious surface designed to look like a parking lot with no drainage, and a drainage control container that can be added under the parking lot to represent controlled flow through an engineered storm sewer. Water then “rains” onto the surface condition sections to illustrate how the different conditions affect flooding downstream. Also, levees made out of clay can be added along the river bank to illustrate flood wall protections.

Kids not only watched the flooding happen but participated with hands-on activities such as placing houses on the terrain or cars on the parking lot, pouring the “rain,” or providing background thunder noises. A short Powerpoint presentation introduced the concepts shown by the model. Weronika concluded the presentation with questions and answers, and with simple, real world activities such as encouraging the kids to look for retention areas or storm water grates when out on a walk.

One challenge of the presentation was gauging how to present to 2nd graders. Concepts and language had to be age appropriate, and the time of day affected their attention with the kids in the afternoon classes a bit restless. Weronika appreciated the opportunity to do the presentation first at Take Your Child to Work Day providing a good practice session and allowing her to see how the kids responded to the activity.

The day at Westgate Elementary left Weronika with many positive takeaways. She shared that it was encouraging and exciting to see the kids start to think critically about flooding issues. She stated that they asked meaningful questions and offered insightful comments. They also expressed interest in the engineering industry, which is the ultimate goal for Civiltech staff engaging in school-age outreach.

Weronika noted that several kids asked serious questions about getting out of a flood or thunderstorm, and that they have noticed the increase in rain events. She had learned at the IAFSM conference that a positive way to approach climate change issues that might be frightening to younger children is looking at issues from a “things we can do” point of view.

Of course, working with kids always has the opportunity for some funny or surprising comments. In discussing Weronika’s role as an engineer, one little girl asked, “how many hours a day do you work?” Weronika answered, “eight,” to which the girl responded, “I don’t think that’s for me.”

The Civiltech team loves the opportunity to participate in volunteer activities that support school age kids and promote engineering as a potential course of study. We strive to show kids that science can be cool, fun, and interesting. This year, staff outreach activities are included in our 35 Signs of Kindness Initiative. Read more about #35SignsOfKindnessCEI here.