The Sunnyside School Board had a chance to meet a new friend at its March meeting. This friend was created as the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of different people.
Cathy Cattail was formally introduced to school board members and she brought some friends of her own, who worked on developing the irrigation canal safety curriculum for the school district.
Cathy Cattail is the end result of a partnership of several different agencies that worked with the Sunnyside's Promise group. A canal safety committee was formed after the drowning death of a district student in a canal on Harrison Hill in September 2001.
Lisa Fairbain of Sunnyside's Promise and Sue Jetter, a contracted grant writer who works with the Sunnyside School District, joined forces to try and find grant money to develop the "Cathy Cattail and the Canal" coloring book, said Gary Vegar, executive director of instruction and learning for the school district.
Vegar speaks highly of the coloring book project, saying it not only has the ability to teach students about canal safety, but the lessons can be integrated into such subject areas as math and science.
A total of $5,000 in funding was obtained from Pacific Power for the creation of the coloring book, Fairbain told the school board. Other project support was received from such entities as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, John Deere RDO Equipment Company, Barrios Unidos, Daily Sun News, Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health, Sunnyside's Promise, the Roza and Sunnyside Valley Irrigation districts and West Farm Foods.
Lori Schilperoort, a kindergarten teacher at Pioneer Elementary School, provided a report to the board on some of the work that had gone into the project. She explained the kindergarten teaching staff in the Sunnyside School District worked on developing the canal safety curriculum and teaching guide.
On March 11, a total of 27 teachers in the school district took a two-hour training on the Cathy Cattail curriculum.
"The training was awesome," said Schilperoort.
All kindergarten students will be receiving coloring books detailing the message of Cathy Cattail about canal safety this spring, said Schilperoort.
The main purpose behind the Cathy Cattail curriculum is to help educate children about the dangers of being around a canal. But the curriculum also teaches students about the value canals bring to the Lower Valley.
The canal safety curriculum is divided into three main objectives, teaching students about canal benefits, canal dangers and safe places to swim, said Schilperoort.
The most extensive portion of the curriculum deals with canal dangers. It is estimated that it will take six, 30-minute sessions for teachers to properly get that message to students. Schilperoort said it is important to implement the canal safety curriculum in other parts of the every day class setting.
Some of the suggested ways in the curriculum booklet for teachers to stress canal safety are to use the coloring book as a reading project and have children brain storm about canal safety benefits.
The curriculum also teaches students about the importance of canals, citing how the Yakima Valley would be a desert without canals and how canals transport water to help with crops.
Students will also be told about the dangers of canals, such as coming across dead or alive animals, fast moving water, unsafe items, and rocks being in the ditches.
Cathy Cattail also has a song called "The Canal Song" that students will learn.
"The Canal Song" is sung to the tune of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and talks about the dangers of canals and the different animals and some of the other characters that were created as part of the Cathy Cattail curriculum, including Slither Snake, Diego Duck and Timmy Tadpole.
Harrison Middle School student Sasha Castro served as illustrator of the Cathy Cattail coloring book. Gregg Burbidge, Skylar Gonzalez and Wendy Chiprez developed the characters for the coloring book.
There was also some brief discussion at the school board meeting of declaring canal safety week in the Sunnyside School District. The board opted to leave that discussion for another day.