Electricity is everywhere around us. Our children need to understand it. Every time they use electricity, they can make something useful or harmful happen depending on their thoughtful use of it. They need to know that every switch they flip and every button they push sets electricity moving. When they grab a remote and push a button, they're watching TV or a movie. Flipping a switch lights a room. Twisting a thermostat dial gives them power heating and cooling. And improper uses of electricity can deliver them electrical shocks.
Last school year in Clark County, more than 4,300 grade-schoolers from 43 classrooms in eight school districts got a chance to see the real source behind their seeming supernatural power of switch flipping. They learned about the utilitarian magic of electron flow. Between October and June, Clark Public Utilities offers free student education program field trip opportunities for classes.
Sometimes as many as 70 children at a time come to the utility's Operations Center at Padden Parkway and 117th Street in Orchards to learn about electrical safety and electricity and water conservation. The utility even helps stretch school district budgets and make the field trip accessible to all schools by reimbursing the cost of busing students to the utility.
The tour season starts in October and runs for two hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting at 9:30 a.m. "We let students pull back the curtains on the operations center with a walk through the warehouse, recycling area and truck bays to learn about what we do," said Heather Allmain, communication services manager at the utility.
When students examine 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 even call for help on their cellphones and radios. Also, they can talk with our workers and ask questions about their jobs and what they're working on.
"Because fourth- and fifth-graders are learning about electricity in science class, we try to make the tours as hands-on as possible and tie their trip to the real world and what they are learning in the classroom. Those who have already had the science unit on electricity learn a lot more; and those who've come before have ideas they can take back and build on."
Electrical safety is a strong theme. "If students remember only one thing, we want it to be safety," said Allmain. Every tour stresses these key points:
Downed lines are dangerous. You can't tell if they're phone lines, electrical lines or "dead" lines by looking — never touch one. Find an adult to call 360-992-8000, 360-992-3000 or 911 instead.
Substations and green transformer boxes on the ground are hazardous. Never climb substation fences, or sit on green transformer boxes.
Don't climb trees with power lines in them or fly kites near power lines.
If a ball, Frisbee or other toy goes over a substation fence, call the utility so they can send someone to retrieve it. Never touch, open or climb a substation fence.
Teachers will receive a tour notice and an email when they return to the classroom this fall. They should book one quickly using the utility website by going to the "community involvement" tab and then the "student education program field trip" page on the website, www.clarkpublicutilities.com. Additionally, teachers may contact communications coordinator and tour host Maxie Lofton at 360-992-3599, with further questions.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.