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Water education (WET) for Alabama’s black belt is an outreach project that provides off-campus environmental and water-education activities to middle school teachers and children from predominantly African-American families in some of Alabama’s poorest counties. Its main goal is to help students and teachers from resource-poor schools become knowledgeable about surface water and groundwater so they can identify and sustain “safe” aquifer zones, where clean water resources are available for long-term use and economic development. Activities are conducted at two field sites, Auburn University’s E.V. Smith Center in Macon County and the Robert G. Wehle Nature Center in Bullock County. Children from rural schools that lack scientific facilities and equipment are introduced to standard methods for assessing water quality and instrumentation for testing water quality at the field sites. Both hosting centers have easy access to surface water (ponds, wetlands, streams) for data collection. The E.V. Smith site also has access to groundwater through nested wells. Educational activities focus on determining groundwater flow, the interaction of groundwater and surface water, and the hydrologic properties (porosity and permeability) of different aquifer materials (sands, gravels, and clays). The project also incorporates simple laboratory exercises that reinforce learning objectives specified by the state of Alabama science curriculum for grades 6–8. Results of the project suggest that by partnering with local universities, low-resource rural school systems can provide their students with access to state-of-the-art equipment and to scientific expertise. However, schools may be less likely to participate if they must bear the costs of transportation and materials for the field experience themselves.

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