Employees show kids how the county works

April 30, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

Snow removal. Breaking up potholes and paving roads. Paying for the fuel to power those expensive trucks.

These tasks are not among the everyday concerns of kindergartners, or even fourth-graders.

But Carroll County public works employees had a captive audience at William Winchester Elementary School in Westminster, as workers showed off their hydraulic excavators, V-blade plows and dump trucks on the grassy fields behind the school.

"This is a great way to expose them to the different occupations there are in Carroll County," said Megan Rhine, a fourth-grade teacher who brought her class to the demonstration. "They know snow gets removed, but how it actually happens makes life much more realistic to them."

This is the first year county employees have visited the schools as part of National County Government Week, sponsored by the National Association of Counties and celebrated with a full slate of events last week.

Each day showcased a different function of government, such as planning, crime prevention and landfills. The celebration underscored the commissioners' efforts to make government transparent for citizens.

"Dump truck, dump truck!" chanted Chloe Sanner, 6, and Bryan Deckelman, 6. "Whoa, look at it. Hee-haw!"

"My daddy drives one, and so does my poppy," said Chloe.

The kids jumped and cheered when the massive excavator was fired up, its giant shovel bending like a wrist, ready to tear through the earth in pursuit of a ditch.

Roads division employees fielded sophisticated questions, including one about the costs of fueling the department's tractors and trucks.

"It takes $1 million in fuel," Public Works Director J. Michael Evans told them. "And that's based on last year's prices. But we have our own gas pumps at our fuel station, so profit and overhead are not an issue."

The event, which came after discussions about Earth Day, will help teachers talk about the need to conserve natural resources, such as energy and water, said Janet Cole, the fourth-grade team leader.

After working with the county for almost 34 years, Roads Operations Chief Benton H. Watson hoped to recruit some future workers for his department, or at least help nurture civic mindedness.

"If you can catch their attention while they are young, maybe they'll take part in local government for the rest of their lives," Watson said. "It's always fun to get out with kids, especially when they are someone elses."

Attached to a yellow John Deere motor grader, the snow plow V-blade, with 8-foot wings stretched back like a giant bird or plane, especially captured pupils' attention.

"That's the reason you go to school on snow days," Evans told them. "Because that V-blade is out there working."

Tony Mathis, 10, was sold.

"I want to work for them so I could drive around the county, shoveling and picking up snow," he said.

For others who want to see the heavy machinery operate, every summer the county hosts a truck rodeo, this year at Carroll Community College on June 22. Roads employees will show off their driving skills, competing against others from Frederick and Howard counties.

Rhine and Cole said the demonstration would tie into their social studies and current events curriculum. Having the pupils write thank-you notes to the public works crew would fit into a writing lesson, Cole said. Plus, students always enjoy hands-on experiences outside the classroom.

"They get excited over this stuff," said Rhine. "It's a good activity to help them make the connections between county, state and federal government, to keep up with current events."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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