CORONA, Calif.—A group of second graders from Cortez Elementary, a math and science magnet school in Pomona, Calif., toured Prado Dam as part of a larger effort to spark the interest of students in science, technology, engineering, and math May 16.
Fernando Cano, a project engineer out of the Los Angeles District’s office in El Monte, Calif., led the group of more than 80 students and a dozen teachers and parent volunteers on the winding path to the dam’s control tower like a conductor driving a long train.
Along the way, Cano, who was assisted by Gus Ruiz, an engineering technician also from the El Monte office, pointed out wildlife and native plants and trees to the students.
One little boy asked Cano, “Does all this land belong to the government?”
“Not just the government, the federal government,” Cano replied.
“Is it true they hide aliens here?” the boy asked.
“I haven’t seen any aliens yet. But maybe,” Cano said with a chuckle.
The boy looked down at the ground and thought for a moment. “Nah, probably just coyotes,” he said.
Although Cano no longer works at the dam, he is very familiar with its structure. He served as the project engineer for the elevation of the dam’s embankment from 2003 to 2007. Although this field trip is nothing out of the norm for the district, this one holds a special significance for Cano: his son, Lorenzo, is a student at Cortez.
Through the course of the normal curriculum for the school’s second grade class, the students have participated in a number of engineering projects in the classroom, including building bridges and towers out of items like uncooked spaghetti and straws. The lesson recently changed to include the construction of dams.
“Exposure like this makes a big impression on them. Especially for a dam,” Cano said. “They’ve never seen one before. They can read about it, but it’s just not the same as actually seeing it in person.”
Alison McAllister, a second grade teacher at Cortez who brought her students on the trip agreed.
“Engineering is a profession that is hugely important for the environment and society,” she said. “For this age group, hands on activities are much better. They are able to learn better. It’s very practical in the sense that they can see it in person how it affects their daily lives.”
Students were able to see the different features of the dam in order to get a better understanding of all of the different components of a dam, including the spillway.
“Are there piranhas in there?” asked one of the boys pointing to the reservoir.
“No piranhas, just fish,” Cano answered.
“But piranhas are fish,” the boy said.
“Yes, but not those fish. Mostly just carp,” Cano explained.
Once the group meandered its way up the sloping paved road to the dam’s control tower, they were treated to a brief and orderly tour around the tower’s outer walkway and got to see some of the controls used to operate the gates used to control the flow of water going through the dam.
After a day of walking and learning about the dam, the students were guided back to the two buses that brought them into town, but not before shouting “thank you” in unison in the sing-songy voices that can only be made by happy second graders.
Prado Dam is a single purpose flood risk reduction project located in Riverside County on the Santa Ana River, near the head of Santa Ana Canyon. Its primary purpose is to reduce the risk of damage from floods for the metropolitan areas in Orange County, Calif., and for the highly developed urban and agricultural areas of the Santa Ana Coastal Plain.