Students from several area middle schools learned firsthand the importance of water quality, quantity and conservation in McHenry County during the Youth Groundwater Festival May 11.

The McHenry County School Environmental Education Program hosted the event at the McHenry County Soil and Water Conservation District, 2222 Dean St.

“All of our water comes from groundwater here in McHenry County,” said MCSEEP Director Bill Donato, a retired Woodstock High School science teacher.

“Our environment is impacted by erosion, pollution and development. All of this affects water – the quality and quantity,” Donato said. “… This day really is essential to explaining that we are all in this together. We want the kids to be able to answer the question: what can you do to nurture nature?”

To kick off the daylong program, local students brought water they collected– from puddles to sinks to ponds – to the event. The water was combined and then tested to see what was found in the water from around McHenry County.

The day brought about new revelations – including discoveries about water contamination. Sixth-grade Creekside Middle School student Kelly Belcastro said, “My favorite part of the day was when I found out there was toxic lemonade in a barrel buried underground, seeping into people’s drinking water.”

McHenry County water resource engineers Sarah Solomon and Tim Frisbie headed a hands-on storm water and floodplains station where students sprinkled cocoa powder, salt, oil and Kool-Aid on a plastic watershed table. The food products represented pollutants and contamination. Students then used spray bottles filled with water to simulate a rainstorm and watched as all of the water combined, bringing with it anything it picked up along the way.

“This is wonderful because it is an opportunity to be outdoors and experience science and watersheds firsthand,” said Gigi Carlson, a Northwood Middle School teacher who brought her sixth-grade Challenge Corps students to the event. “This truly helps create future stewards of our planet.

“I am thankful to the MCSEEP staff for providing this experience – it really helps the students see how they can affect our environment,” Carlson continued.

Solomon said that she enjoys educating young people. “It is important to know how development affects our water resources. Many people don’t think about that when they build a house. It is so much better to learn how to make better decisions as a young person and carry that with you as an adult,” Solomon said.

At another station students used nets to sweep the pond and were able to look at what they found, determining whether the water was healthy or not.

Across the board, students and teachers said they appreciated the experience.

“I love coming to this every year. I just love it,” said St. Mary School science teacher Jennifer Cherniak. “The staff shows the kids exactly where the water is coming from and how to take care of it. It is so important – you can’t stress this enough. These kids walk away knowing so much more about what they need to do to be good stewards of our natural resources.”

The Groundwater Festival provided not only knowledge but also sparked a newfound appreciation in many students for natural resources.

Creekside sixth-grade student Vicki Ferrarini said, “[The Groundwater Festival] was so much fun.  I had such a great time with the teachers and [other instructors]. It was so cool how we got to go fishing in the lake. There we found four tadpoles and even a minnow. … I can’t wait to go again next year.”

MCSEEP provides educational materials, presentations and STEM activities for students and educators.

For more information, contact Donato at or

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