Children to discover the world of public works with new K-5 public works curriculum

Susan Rehm, MBA
Program Marketing Specialist
APWA Kansas City Office

"Wow, look at that water. It looks like it's bubbling up from out of the ground. It seems to be growing. Now it's a puddle. Oh, oh, the puddle is getting deeper and wider. There's water everywhere. It looks like a blanket of water. I'm going to have to swim across. I hope I remember how." Suddenly someone screamed, "Hey watch out! This is a broken water main. Stay away!" "I'm so scared, I can't move," thought the shaking Chipper. "The water is inching its way closer and closer. There's water all around me!"

This is the type of scenario that makes your heart drop to the pit of your stomach. Fortunately, what you just read is fiction and is an excerpt from the new children's book entitled Chipper's Adventures in Public Works. This book is one component of the new K-5 public works curriculum—Discovering the World of Public Works—that APWA will launch at the 2005 Congress.

APWA had a two-fold purpose for creating and offering this community outreach program. The main objective is to educate grade school students at an early age (K-5) about the role of public works in their everyday life, introduce basic public safety concepts, and get them interested in public works as a possible future career choice. Secondly, the outreach program provides public works professionals with a ready-to-use curriculum when they are invited to speak at school and community events such as "Career Day." The program is also suitable for teachers to use in the classroom.

Discovering the World of Public Works is extremely flexible in its design. It consists of three components: Instructor's Guide, Workbook, and Chipper's Adventures in Public Works (written at the 3rd grade level). As the instructor, you will be able to pick and choose those subject areas that are most appropriate for your audience and timeframe. The Instructor's Guide walks you through the content step by step, even down to the amount of time required and what materials you will need. This means that you won't have to spend hours researching your presentation and that you and your colleagues will be delivering a consistent message of what "public works is all about."

Instructor's Guide
The Instructor's Guide provides in-depth background information and instructions for teaching children about the field of public works. The areas covered are construction, traffic and transportation, solid waste, water, and wastewater. The Guide includes ready-to-use lesson plans with learning objectives, detailed procedures, background information, classroom activities, resources, and a glossary. Furthermore, the curriculum integrates the areas of social studies, language arts, science, math, and art. These lesson plans can be used as an entire unit on public works, as stand-alone activities, or on an occasional basis to teach children about public works.

Workbook for Children
An accompanying Workbook includes information and resources as well as activities and worksheets that the children can complete in order to gain a better understanding of the world of public works. The Workbook is divided into two levels: 1) Basic level activities primarily geared to K-2nd grade students, and 2) "Chipper's Challenge"—activities geared for the 3rd-5th grade level. However, this does not preclude children from completing all of the activities.

Chipper's Adventures in Public Works
By reading or hearing the story featuring the antics of Chipper, a precocious six-month-old puppy who has escaped his young owners, children will learn about four key public works areas. At each juncture in the story, Chipper's owners encounter a public works employee who has rescued the puppy from a potentially dangerous situation—only to have him run off again! The vibrant and engaging illustrations capture the reader's attention while at the same time, promotes the role of public works in the community and reinforces safety practices.

To ensure that Discovering the World of Public Works accurately depicted the profession, the project was developed under the auspices of an eight-member volunteer APWA member task force and an outside education advisor. The charge of the task force was to develop an outreach program that would reach younger audiences and educate them about public works—which has been an ongoing key object of APWA's annual strategic plan. The task force held one face-to-face meeting last November, then conducted the rest of the development and review process by phone, fax, and e-mail. It took approximately 10 months to plan and complete the project, which was managed by Lillie Plowman, APWA Publications/Premiums Marketing Manager.

"I felt this was an opportunity to participate in a public works project that I had experience in," replied APWA member Cynthia Mitchell, Landfill and Recovery Superintendent, City of Columbia Public Works, Columbia, Missouri, when asked why she chose to participate on the task force. "As a parent and a public presenter for our local agency's solid waste programs, I felt I could contribute something to the project. From speaking to children on this level, I know that 'public works' and all its related areas are not commonly recognized and I believe this project is a step towards the awareness of the public works field's contribution to each community."

Added task force member, Roy Butler, who has been involved in the Southern California Chapter's Career Guidance program for many years, "The public works community needs to be more proactive in telling the general public about what we do. The best place to start is in the schools. At best, their parents will learn more about the importance of public works and become more vocal, at the local levels, in supporting funding for public works activities. At least we will have educated future generations about public works."

How will Discovering the World of Public Works help children understand how public works affects their everyday lives? "Chipper's story will draw interest from those who like animals and have pets," Mitchell said. "The activities in the Student Handbook offer a variety of fun ways to learn the basics of the four broad public works areas that are introduced." While the program has been successfully pilot-tested in five classrooms in two elementary schools, APWA's intention is to reach a much broader audience—outside the classroom—and encourages chapters and members to get involved. "We can't leave it up to the teachers and schools to make it work," said Butler. "It requires a lot of people to make it happen." Mitchell agreed. "In order to make this program a success, it should filter out through the chapters to the schools."

Discovering the World of Public Works will be available for purchase in September. Each curriculum package will include an Instructor's Guide, 25 copies of Chipper's Adventures in Public Works, and 25 copies of the Workbook. Additional copies of the Workbook and Chipper's Adventures in Public Works will also be available for purchase separately. For more information about this public works curriculum, please contact Lillie Plowman, Publications/Premiums Marketing Manager, at (800) 848-APWA, ext. 5253.

"It's fun to be out and about," thought Chipper. "But it can be scary and dangerous too. I'm so glad that public works people were there for me."

And so are we!

Susan Rehm can be reached at (800) 848-APWA or srehm@apwa.net.