Congressional School Blog

Who Polluted the Potomac?

Kicking off Service Learning for the school year with composting, nut collecting, and an interesting, global look into water pollution beyond the Potomac River




Is this water safe to drink? Would you swim in it? Is it safe for wildlife? The answer to those questions at the beginning of our middle schooler's Service Learning kick-off gathering was a resounding yes as the students looked at a bowl of clean, clear water in front of Mrs. Yassine, our 5th and 6th Grade Global Perspectives Teacher.

Their answers divided and slowly turned negative, though, as teachers read through the history of the Potomac River.

One Native American journaled over 500 years ago about the Potomac's "sweet water," much like the bowl sitting in front of our gathering. As time passed, and the water became polluted, and 5th grade students poured pollutants into the bowl to give everyone a visual on their effects on the river.

Would you drink it now? Thumbs down filled the room.


bowl presentations


Let's pause a moment. What is exactly is "Service Learning"?

The most effective Service Learning programs connect experiences outside of the classroom with areas of academic study. Addressing world hunger, energy usage, issues within our watershed, recycling, and composting become more than a service to others and our community. They become an opportunity to learn, problem solve, and take responsibility at a level deeper than a "feel-good" action.

We dive into the how and why behind the service and understand the effect that students can have on their own community and the world.


"Service learning is more than just community service. It takes the issues and problems that we find in our communities and around the world and it incorporates them throughout the curriculum."

- Andrea Weiss, Director of Innovation and Learning


1st grade composting

1st graders are focusing on composting and began their year by learning about what composting is and took a trip to see the composter.



walking in woods

3rd grade's focus is watershed management. Currently, their focus in science class is trees and types of trees. By combining their lesson with service learning, students are understanding how tree roots provide a natural filtration system on riverbeds. Their first service was to collect nuts and acorns to send for the Growing Native initiative to de-seed nuts and plant more trees along the river.

Back to our assembly...

With the image of the murky, black water in front of our middle school students, the question arose, "If our country has the ability to filter polluted, unsanitary water such as this, how can 3rd world countries with less available resources address the same issue?"

Mrs. Yassine introduced a resource by WATERisLIFE for discussion, The Drinkable Book--an educational book whose pages can provide a filtration system for safe, drinkable water for 4 years to the people who in areas lacking necessary resources.

The mic then was passed to the students. What do you think about this?

Their answers were filled with observations about literacy rates, the trash that the paper would create, the lack of solutions for animals, the energy usage it takes to ship the books around the world, and comparisons to books read in their classes on similar topics.

They did not accept the solution at face value but rather evaluated the consequences and problem solved to address the issue from other angles.


student speaking microphone



Listen to students as they ask questions and brainstorm about The Drinkable Book.

This middle school assembly kicked off the year for Service Learning by looking into the power of natural resources and the power our actions have in relation to those resources.

It's going to be a great year as students of all ages continue to learn and collaborate to create actionable items to address the issues of our world, one step at a time.




Congressional School

Preschool - 8th Grade Private School
Infant and Toddler Program
Falls Church, VA

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