The original idea for Regional Water Authority education was to outfit a service van as a mobile environmental education laboratory and classroom on wheels. The van would travel to various schools and watersheds and provide experiments, lectures, investigations, etc. There would even be a roll out canvas canopy to protect students and equipment during inclement weather. But this would only work in warmer weather months, so it was back to the drawing board.
In the late 1980s, planning began on a water science education center that would be open to schools in the water district. Its purpose was to provide a hands-on learning facility for water and the natural environment for elementary school students and for science teachers. At the time, elementary school children, especially those in the New Haven Schools, had few hands-on science learning opportunities. A water center would provide science teachers and students a laboratory and programs where experiments with water would raise awareness and understanding of this precious, taken-for-granted resource.
The building chosen to house the classrooms was a former office building, built in the 1880s, of the Whitney Arms Company complex. It is located below the Lake Whitney dam near Whitney Avenue. After significant renovation work, the water center opened for business in the fall of 1980; 3,428 elementary school students and teachers took part in programs offered by the center that first year. The three most popular programs were Water Wizards (physical properties of water), the Magic of Microscopy (a microscopic look at life in the Mill River), and Discovery Hikes through nearby East Rock Park. All programs were and still are free to schools and groups in the Authority’s district.
Three years later, with a grant from a local foundation, the water center started providing classes at area schools. Interns from the education program at the University of New Haven took the programs on the road. This proved to be very popular, especially as school busses for field trips became less available.
Today, the Regional Water Authority offers a wide variety of water science programs for school classes, scouts and other groups. The Authority’s educator, Lisa DiFrancesco, teaches some programs at the water center, but she takes most programs to area classrooms. Programs include hands-on presentations, water science loan boxes, and Project WATER, a water quality testing program for students in sixth through eighth grades.
Water science programs offered through the Whitney Water Center have evolved over time to keep pace with the state education standards. Current offerings include something for every grade level: building a distribution system out of PVC pipe and seeing how communities use water for younger children, exploring the water cycle, properties of water, and conservation for older children, and pollution prevention and microscopy for upper elementary and middle school students. Loan boxes cover many of the same programs that the Authority’s educator presents to students, but also allow students to spend more time exploring the concepts of density, properties of liquids, weather, and watersheds.
Learn more about our education program and hear from our Water Science Educator, Lisa DiFancesco
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