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Take Action

The following ideas are adaptable classroom activities that encourage students to be active citizens. They are inspired by a court case related to the Clean Water Act featured on the 12/20/02 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast. (Note: A free transcript of this interview is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.)

1. Find Out How Clean the Water Is in Your Community When the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, it was in direct response to the horrendous condition of the nation's water system. (The NOW Web site provides a summary of the Clean Water Act's main provisions.) At that time many of the nation's rivers, lakes, and beaches were polluted to such an extent that they were not safe for fishing or swimming. Today, despite great progress, many of the country's waters still do not meet water quality goals. To help students see how their community could be/is directly impacted by the Clean Water Act, work with them to find out the quality of water in your area. The American Water Works Association provides local water reports and details about drinking water regulations. In addition, the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that utilities issue annual Consumer Confidence Reports detailing where our water comes from, what it contains, and the risks the water testing and treatment are designed to prevent. Have students analyze their local water report and form conclusions. They could also access the reports of neighboring communities and make comparisons. Then, invite a local water official to the classroom to discuss the report and the comparisons students made during their investigation.

To further extend this activity, students could confirm the results of their local water report by collecting and analyzing water samples from local rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, etc. In addition, students should also gather a sample of the local tap water they drink each day. Have them label the samples carefully, including the name of the body of water and the date the sample was taken. It would also be helpful to for students to take notes about what they observe as they collect the sample, paying particular attention to the appearance of the water, whether or not it has a particular odor, the appearance of the area (does it look trashy or polluted), and so on. Or students could use a camera or video camera to document how the bodies of water looked on the day samples were gathered. After analyzing the samples, have students create a report card for the water quality of the bodies of water tested and their tap water. To conclude the activity, have students share their testing/analysis, photographic documentation, and the report card they have issued with local water authorities.

2. Take a Stand on Local Conflicts Between Business and the Environment
Have students examine local/state issues related to balancing business and environmental interests by collecting news stories, clippings, letters to the editor, and other data over a period of time set by the teacher (one week, two weeks, etc.). Periodically discuss the issues students have discovered. At the end of the designated time period, ask each student in the class to focus on one of the issues and take a stand for that case in support of either business or environmental interests. Using the evidence collected, have students create a public display (i.e. a letter to the editor, t-shirt design, poster, television or radio advertisement, billboard design, etc.) that could be used to show their viewpoint. When the project is completed, have students share their project with the class and explain why they support the point of view they are representing.

3. Create a Clean Water Campaign in Your Community
From October 2002 - October 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is celebrating the Year of Clean Water. The purpose of the celebration is to educate Americans about clean water issues and recommit the country to improving water quality nationwide. The EPA Web site provides additional information on the Year of Clean Water and gives specific suggestions for ways to get involved locally to improve water quality. Another site with such information is the American Water Works Association.

Have students research and learn as much as they can about ways that people can conserve and protect water resources and advocate for their responsible use and care. As they research, students should take notes on reasons, facts, and examples related to keeping a clean, healthy water supply for all.

Next, have students develop a public service campaign supporting the Year of Clean Water and then divide the work for various portions of the campaign among smaller groups. For example, one group could write a script for and record public service announcements that could appear on school or local television stations. A second group could create audio public service announcements for school/local radio stations. Another group could focus on print media and create ads that could be used in local newspapers and magazines. Others could focus on creating billboards, posters, and bumper stickers. Finally, several groups could work together to produce a short news-type program or newsletter focused on the Year of Clean Water. Here, local water officials could be interviewed about community efforts to keep water clean, local politicians could talk about legislative issues supporting clean water initiatives, and there could even be a "Top Ten" segment of suggestions about what people can do to preserve local water resources.

Once the public service campaign components are completed, the class could launch the campaign on a school or local level to raise awareness among their peers, school patrons, and members of the community in general.

4. Bring Business and Environmental Interests Together with Recycling
Helping the environment can also be good business. Encourage students to become actively involved in a school/community improvement project that has both business and environmental issues at heart, such as recycling. If your school doesn't currently recycle, work with students and administrators to start one. Contact a local recycling or waste removal company to discuss a partnership between the school and the company. Have students create recycling bins for each classroom as well as for common areas in the school. Depending on your community recycling capabilities, recycle newspapers, regular paper products, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, magazines, and catalogs. Consider having exterior recycling bins on school grounds that can be used by community patrons.

To help the recycling effort to be successful, have students create a public service campaign discussing the benefits and importance of recycling at school, home, and in the community. This could be in the form of a video that airs school-wide, posters displayed in the school and community, and an article or advertisement that appears in the local news media as well as the school newspaper. Students could then devise a strategy for the ongoing removal of recycled goods to local recycling agencies. Many of these companies pay by the pound for recycled materials. Use the funds generated by the recycling project to benefit the students in the school (purchase of equipment, materials, etc.).

  • Use NOW's Environmental Resource Map to find out about conditions in your neighborhood.
  • Find out how to E-cycle.

    About the Author

    Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked with PBS TeacherSource and has authored many lesson plans for various PBS programs over the past five years. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national conventions, Prososki has also worked as an editor and authored one book.

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