Energy adviser: Utility opens doors to students
Thursday, September 6, 2012
When we flip the switch, the lights come on. When we turn the faucet handle, water flows out. We might not give it much thought. Each year, however, more than 4,000 elementary students gain a new appreciation for these essential services.
The Clark Public Utilities student tour program provides free field trip opportunities for classes to visit the utility's operations center and learn about electricity and water services.
"The tour is a behind-the-scenes look at how the utility works, and kids have a great time with the interactive presentations," said Heather Allmain, the utility's communications services manager. "We specifically invite fourth and fifth graders, because that's when students are learning about electricity and water quality."
As the school year begins, the tour season does as well. The utility offers tours 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from October through June. Allmain said the tour dates book up by December.
Last academic year, 4,291 students from 43 schools in six districts took the tour.
The utility has offered student programs for 30 years -- long enough that some of the students who took tours in the early days now work for the utility, or chaperone their own children on the trip.
The utility reimburses the school districts for the cost of transporting students, which makes the field trip accessible even during times of tight budgets.
It's up to the teachers whether to take their classes on the tour, but many find it is a nice complement to the fourth- and fifth-grade science curriculum.
"It's hand- on, so the kids can make the connection between the real world and classroom work and see how it all ties together," said Chrissy Free, an elementary math and science curriculum specialist for the Vancouver School District.
On the tour, students have a chance to experience electricity and magnetism firsthand with a hair-raising Van de Graaff generator. This presentation includes information on power generation, distribution and conservation.
A video presentation provides background information about the utility, the types of jobs employees do, and how power is generated.
Students get a chance to look behind the scenes at the operations center with a walk through the warehouse, recycling area and truck bays. When students examine the utility trucks up close, tour guides point out the "Safe Watch" logo, and explain that employees in those vehicles can offer assistance, first aid, or can call for help on their cellphones and radios.
Given that Clark Public Utilities provides water to nearly 31,000 customers -- as well as electricity -- students also learn about drinking water and how to protect it through environmental stewardship.
Safety is a big theme throughout. Students learn about electrical safety through a "shocking" demonstration that stresses safety tips children of any age should know:
• Downed lines can be dangerous. If you see a wire down, don't touch it. You can't be sure what kind of wire it is -- electrical or phone -- just by looking at it, you can't tell if it's "dead." Find an adult who can report the downed line by calling 360-992-8000, 360-992-3000 or 911.
• Never climb substation fences, green transformer boxes or trees with power lines nearby.
• Substations have dangerous equipment. If a toy accidentally goes into a substation, however, it's not gone forever. Just call Clark Public Utilities to retrieve it for you.
To sign up or learn more, visit the student tour page at www.ClarkPublicUtilities.com, under the community involvement section.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.