Working on Projects with Students at Naco Elementary
Fellow, Climate Assessment for the Southwest
Alma Anides Morales is a 2019 recipient of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program.
Alma's project is in collaboration with Cochise Health and Social Services to sample and analyze the chronic untreated effluent flowing north into Naco, Arizona, a town of about 1,000 residents in the US-Mexico border. The sewage flows are a community concern as sewage flow is in close proximity to a school, private property, and eventually discharges into tributaries of the San Pedro River. The study will center on the determining potential environmental impacts and health risks for residents. Information produced will be used to help inform residents and assist CHSS in their preparedness and response to such events.
Energetic middle schoolers fill the classroom air with excitement. Three UA graduate students are standing in the way between their final hours of summer school and unlimited summer fun. We better make this engaging! I think to myself. Today, we are there to talk about environmental science, and how the quality of our environment- the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the soil that we run on- affects our every day lives, including our health.
Naco, Arizona is a small border community that has been on the radar of environmental and health service agencies due to historic transnational sanitary sewage overflows near residential areas. The Naco Elementary School community has expressed concern and we have been working with them and the Cochise Health and Social Services to test for residual microbial contamination. It is also important for Naco Elementary students to be aware of such events and be critical of the quality of the environment that surrounds them. We all have a right for a safe place to live and play.
Students get into teams and follow a worksheet guiding them through the scientific process…
Ask a question- Is the water from the water fountain outside of the cafeteria safe to drink?
Make a hypothesis- Since many students drink from it, it must be safe to drink.
Teams come back to the classroom carrying water samples from their site of choice. They are provided store-bought water quality testing kits. Some teams decide to split up responsibilities- as one dips the strips testing for different indicators such as total chlorine and pH, the other refers to the color chart and records the results.
Analyze the data & make conclusions- Once all gloves and strips have been discarded, teams are asked to discuss their findings. How similar or different were our results from each other? How many of our samples were within acceptable levels?
After our activity, a student comes up and asks us where we bought the water testing kits. He says he is interested in testing the water at his home. Another girl comes up to me and asks me if I am Mexican because she can hear my accent. I tell her yes, I grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and was brought to U.S. when I was nine years old. She excitedly replies, “me too!” and tells me she also wants to go to college.
Ice cream sandwiches are passed around and with sticky fingers we say goodbye as students walk out to the school bus. “Don’t forget to practice your English during the Summer!” the principal waves to the students.
To the north of the school the Mule Mountains stand starkly against the clear blue sky. To the south, the border fence snails along with the Port of Entry close in sight. Naco Elementary is part of an integrated binational community. Although a physical structure separates both countries, protecting our shared ecosystem is a responsibility that concerns us all.