School festival celebrates wonders of water

Several agencies share information, tips
by: Rob Cullivan, Vinni Erickson, 7, and his sister, Carley, 6, of Fairview, along with Jenna Olander, 3, of Portland, play a rubber duck game as Mayra Tello-Ceh, a sixth-grader at Reynolds Middle School, looks on. Mayra was one of several students who volunteered at the school’s Water Festival the evening of Thursday, April 19.

In Japan, people who've fished sometimes create gyatoku, or impressions of prize fish they've caught by painting their catches with ink and placing them on rice paper. After lifting the paper off the fish, an impression is left that is sometimes turned into artwork on dishes and calendars.

However, when teaching children at Reynolds Middle School in Fairview how to create gyatoku, Ethan Chessin decides to forego using real fish.

'We're interested in positive smells,' he says, as he handles some fake rubber fish. 'As well as positive art.'

Chessin is a community outreach and information assistant with the city of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services and was one of several representatives of various state and local agencies on hand Thursday night, April 19, at Reynolds for its Water Festival.

The festival was held in anticipation of Earth Day, which is Sunday, April 22, according to Keelin Sanger, a sixth-grade science teacher at Reynolds. Sanger says the festival was funded in part through a watershed stewardship grant from the Bureau of Environmental Services. Teaching students about water is vital, she says.

'I'm hoping that they just recognized how important it is to different aspects of our lives,' she says. 'We need it for recreation and fun, to stay healthy and for the environment.'

Along with Environmental Services, sponsors of the event included Wild Oats Markets, Oregon Health and Science University, Rockwood Water People's Utility District, Burgerville Gresham, The East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District and the school's Garden Club.

Dozens of parents and students attended the festival, which featured information booths about water safety and the Columbia River Gorge, storytelling, musical performances and water games.

Melissa Evans, a social studies teacher at the school, dressed up as a water drop for the event.

'I'm telling (students) that water is wonderful, and they're wonderful because so much of their body is made up of water,' Evans says. According to several different sources, the human body is made up of between 50 to more than 70 percent water.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Carr, a research assistant with Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, says she's encouraging Reynolds students to drink more water and less soda pop.

'Kids these days are more sedentary with all the video games and the technology in their lifestyles,' she says. 'There's more kids developing type 2 diabetes. If we can get these kids to think about what they're eating and what they're drinking and get a little more active, it might make a dent.'

Visitors to the water fest could also learn about water safety, according to Karen Houston, a team leader with Oregon State Parks. At her booth, Houston hands out bracelets inscribed with the slogan 'Keep Hope Afloat' to remind parents and kids to wear life jackets when they go boating this summer.

As she talks, a student walks by and lets out a shriek. But it's not his voice making the noise.

'Those annoying whistles are my fault,' she says with a smile, noting she distributed the devices to several children. But she adds that those annoying whistles can also save someone's life, especially when they're attached to a life jacket.

'If they went overboard, they could blow the whistle,' she says.

In addition to the water festival, Sanger says students at Reynolds Middle School are also participating in other earth-friendly activities, including composting cafeteria waste; cultivating a garden containing plants native to Oregon; and helping to restore the Columbia Slough by removing invasive species that kill off native plants and fail to provide adequate food and shelter for wildlife. Working with the Portland Parks and Recreation Department, the students are also planting native species along the slough, she says.