The power of potty humor

What do you get when you cross an elementary school student with a miniature flushing toilet? You get a kid who’s excited about water.

1905wwvwp P01

What do you get when you cross an elementary school student with a miniature flushing toilet? You get a kid who’s excited about water. Just ask Meg Tabacsko. She’s been coordinating the school education program for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for the past 28 years.

“The MWRA started out just having a water program where they focused on water conservation and the water delivery system,” she explained. Then during the Boston Harbor project, somebody suggested developing a wastewater education program. “And since we already had one program in place, it was easy. We [already] had the teacher contacts.”

She took that on as a “special project” and never looked back.

1905wwvwp P01

Meg Tabacsko (left) and assistant Danielle DiRuzza present to a school group in Winthrop, Mass. Photo courtesy MWRA/William P. Gorman Fort Banks Elementary School.

“I love it,” she said. “I’ve been at the MWRA 32 years and I still love going to work. It’s so rewarding because the kids, they really get it. They appreciate it — and so do the teachers. They really learn something. It’s amazing.”

But it’s not all about the fun and games; it’s much bigger. “A lot of adults don’t know where their water comes from and where their wastewater goes,” she noted. “[The kids] are our future.”

In a part of the country that’s relatively water rich, it’s easy to forget that water is a precious resource. “People don’t realize,” said Tabacsko. “We take it for granted.” To drive the point home, in one of her lessons she challenges the kids to think of all the different ways they use water in a day. “They start thinking about it, and then suddenly a first grader will say, ‘Wow! We really do use water for lots of things!’”

In another exercise called “Building the System,” the students pretend their desks are buildings and the aisles in between are streets. “We lay down big cardboard tubes, which are water mains,” she explained. “Then they connect service lines from the water mains into their buildings using straws. Then we ‘break’ certain pipes and figure out who is responsible for which set of pipes.”

In the course of the lesson, they talk about all the buildings that need water — including schools. The kids are amazed to learn that they wouldn’t be allowed to come to school if it didn’t have water. “At the end, I say, one of the reasons why you couldn’t come to school for a whole day without water is because you couldn’t flush a toilet!”

Throughout her workshops, Tabacsko rewards kids who participate with a chance to flush a miniature, sound-effect-­enabled toilet. “And they think it’s the greatest thing ever!”

Her classroom visits leave a lasting impression; sometimes she’ll hear from past students, years later, who never forgot her message. “I got a telephone call from a first-year teacher saying, ‘Oh! You’re still doing this job? Well, you came into my high school and I still remember it was one of the best presentations — and I want my students to have that experience.’ And she invited me into her classroom.”

For Tabacsko, it’s the ultimate reward, knowing that she’s made a difference. WW

More in Water Utility Management