Waxahachie Global High students participated in a field trip to the city’s wastewater treatment plant Friday as part of a fun day of science and engineering.
“This is the most meaningful field trip that I’ve ever been a part of in my entire educational career,” Headmaster Portia Butler said. “(The students) did not go in cold. They’ve already been discussing the whole water cycle in biology class and in engineering class they’ve been discussing the actual structure of the waste water treatment plant.”
Students were divided into four groups with one group at a time touring the plant while the remaining students participated in activities at the park. The entire group also enjoyed a hot dog lunch and some “much needed and well deserved recreation,” said Butler, who said students have been working “very hard.”
“It was disgusting,” said student Nathaniel Dillinger, who along with other students said of the plant, “It stunk.”
But the students also learned much that they didn’t already know about the facility and about the wastewater treatment process.
“I never knew the process of how they cleaned the water,” student Michelle Manion said. “I liked it. It was interesting.”
“I learned that they use microbacteria in the filters to purify the polluted water. They let us look at the microbacteria. You could see the flagella (on the bacteria) moving. They took one-tenth of a drop of wastewater and let us look at it under a microscope and to see all the bacteria. They also showed us a big tank full of polluted water,” student Gloria Hernandez said, saying students were asked to imagine how much bacteria could be found in the big tank, after seeing how much was in one-tenth of a drop of water.
“They use a chlorine-free process, which is good because I am allergic to one of the ingredients that is found in most chlorine,” Hernandez said. “So (the process) is better for me.”
“They had ultraviolet lights to kill the rest of the bacteria. The light was neon green,” student Marce Hernandez said.
“There was a big purple tank that looked like Barney (the popular dinosaur character),” student Amber Sutton said.
Gloria Hernandez said students saw color-coded manhole lids - green for sewer, red for electric, purple for water - on the tour.
“After 9/11, all sewage treatment plants and water treatment plants came under federal oversight through the department of Homeland Security,” said WGH chief academic officer Everett Brunson, who said the plants are sites that might be attractive to would-be terrorists.
Global High is the first public group to tour the water treatment plant since 9/11, Brunson said, noting the plans recently finished all necessary security measures.
“They were very pleased to bring us through because they are so proud of all the modernization that they have done at the plant,” Brunson said. “Their standards actually exceed those mandated by the state. When they’re finished with (the water), it is drinkable.”
“We always go above and beyond,” wastewater treatment plant superintendent Everett Viar said. “That’s my goal.”
The students learned that the sewage goes through five phases.
“During the first stage, there is a machine that separates out non-sewage items,” said Brunson, listing items such as jewelry and money that are separated from the sewage.
“There is 150 miles of pipe,” Viar said, saying that wastewater can take anywhere from two to eight hours to arrive at the plant from its starting point.
Brunson said the field trip was important because students now have an understanding of water systems from beginning to end.
“It’s one of the keys to understanding life science,” Brunson said.
“Within the water cycle, all rain started in the ocean and returns to the ocean. But everything we eat and drink is part of the cycle, too.”
It’s important for students to understand the way the cycle has been adapted to leave the smallest environmental footprint,” he said. “Treating our drinking water is a chemical process. Treating our wastewater is a chemical process. It is most important that this can be a natural benign process, yet be safe and effective.
“Today the students learned many of the different kinds of beneficial bacteria used to break down human waste and how these bacteria are monitored and cultured to do the job,” he said. “They learned aeration of the sewage mixes and creates an environment for these bacteria to work. They saw how heavy metals - lead, mercury and even copper - are separated from the waste products. And they saw how the last of the bacteria is killed with ultraviolet lights, as well as the last separation process of solid waste in preparation for going to the landfill.”
As part of the tour, students viewed an empty aeration tank and were able to see the piping and aeration valves and a number of pumping and valve systems that distribute waste and aeration gases.
“What we did is we tried to help the kids to understand that we have a collection system here in Waxahachie that receives waste from 12 permitted industries, as well as some unpermitted industries - waste from the entire industrial community - the commercial community, which includes restaurants, and the residential community,” Viar said. “All of this is combined and it comes into our plant in one place.
“What we did is we told the kids that we not only treat the waste, we treat the air, the odor,” Viar said, describing the students as “very sharp.”