Salisbury Academy students witness the life cycle of water

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

SALISBURY — When Salisbury Academy’s eighth-graders stepped off the field trip bus at the Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Town Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, they knew they were in for an adventure.

“This is a culminating event for you in terms of environmental studies,” said Salisbury Academy science teacher Katie Skalka to her students as they filed off the bus. “We’ve learned about water resources and recycling, we’ve formed our school green team, and this visit builds on everything we’ve been learning since sixth grade.”

What the students didn’t realize until touring the plant is just how important the treatment of wastewater is for our environment and community. Over the course of the tour, students learned how the wastewater treatment plant processes 4 million gallons of wastewater from 500 miles of piping each day, and about the mechanical and biological processes that make this possible.

“It puts the amount of water that we use every day into perspective, and it showed the importance of this job in order for us to get clean water every day,” said Salisbury Academy eighth-grader Caitlin Hattaway.

Walking between the various stations where the water is separated from the solids, introduced to microorganisms that dissolve solid waste, and then aerated and treated with chlorine, students saw a variety of the lessons and concepts that they have studied in school in action: point-source pollution, aerobic respiration, and the Archimedes’ Screw, for example.

To put another unique perspective on the visit, earlier this year Salisbury Academy’s seventh grade students stood in the very creek that the treated water from the plant flows into: Grants Creek, a part of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin. In that study, the students evaluated the water quality of the creek by examining the macroinvertebrates alive in the creek water.

“Environmental science is a perfect way to integrate life and physical science,” said Skalka, explaining that Salisbury Academy’s seventh grade studies life science. This includes biodiversity, the importance of natural filters, and the impact that water quality has on living things.

“The eighth-graders then focus on how water is transported and what types of simple machines, like the Archimedes’ Screw, enable us to move great volumes of water and treat it so that it can be released back into the system,”  said Skalka. “The water treatment plant provides real-life demonstrations of these lessons.”

Environmental inquiry also ties directly into Salisbury Academy’s Project Green Space initiative which aims to enhance the school’s outdoor learning environment while developing conservation-minded students and an energy-efficient and low-waste school facility.

Salisbury Academy has its own middle school green team, and students of all grade levels experience a range of environmentally focused field trips over the course of the year. Field trips taken this year include visits to the Catawba Center for the Environment and the N.C. State Phytotron, and a geology and migration study at Grandfather Mountain and Linville Caverns. Next week, Salisbury Academy’s fourth-graders will visit a local recycling plant.

And according to the academy’s students, these real-world environmental interactions – like the trip to the Town Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant – are adding up and hitting home.

“We went to see the life cycle of something we use daily but hadn’t really thought about,” said Salisbury Academy eighth-grader Caroline Colwell. “Now we will think of it.”