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Students get connected to Public Works with hands-on experience

BRIGHTON — When it rains, it pours, but no amount of rain can stop public service. The second annual Public Works Week celebration at Brighton Reservation on May 25 may have had a rough start due to a thunderstorm, but it ended on a bright note for the students who attended.

A popular station teaches students that stopping pipe leaks is not as easy as it may seem. (Li Cohen photo)

Despite the gloomy weather, more than 100 middle schoolers and teachers from Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School visited Brighton’s water treatment facility with smiles on their faces to learn about the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Public Works Department.

Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. said that young students need to know what careers are available to them. He explained that parents should take an interest in their children and help them identify opportunities they can take advantage of.

“Students have to know what is out there for them to take advantage of one day. Instead of sitting in a classroom and just reading about it and watching TV, they need to get involved with it,” he explained. “They need to get away from their TVs and phones and expand their minds.”

At the Public Works Week event, students received a hands-on experience. They divided into groups of 10 and visited numerous stations within the facility that focused on various aspects of water treatment, including water pressure and valves, power tools, construction tools and more.

Christina Abinawer, program assistant for CH2M Hill, works with the Public Works Department on various public works projects. She and other company representatives attended the event to provide the visiting children with a water experiment.

“I hope this event will make them more interested in science,” she said. “It’s good for them to know how basic water processes work.”

Along with learning how the facility serves a large role in the community, students also had the chance to learn how different tools and machines function in the process. With the help of Public Works officials, students used the controls on a Brush Hawg tractor and went inside fire trucks.

Derek Koger, director of Public Works, grew up in Okeechobee and spent a lot of time on the Brighton Reservation. He said that generally, students do not receive a lot of exposure to science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) based fields.

“The Public Works Department has set out to give the kids on the reservation an idea of some of the great opportunities they have right here on the Brighton Reservation,” he explained. “Students can have great careers without going to college… This is a 24/7 operation. We can’t stop. This facility has to run because people need water.”

According to Koger, one of the greatest features of Public Works Week in the Tribe is that students get a hands-on experience in the field. He said that the best way for many kids to learn is through hands-on experiences that classrooms can’t usually provide.

“Science is important. The world is our most valuable commodity and if we don’t protect that, then where are we going?” he said. “If we can bring [students] to the lab, what better experience could they have? Hands-on experiences are the only way to go.”

The event is sponsored as part of National Public Works Week, which aims to educate the public about public works projects and help people understand the prevalence of this field in the community. The Brighton facility specifically works on water treatment, distribution and maintenance, as well as wastewater managements and treatment.

Koger encouraged community members to learn more about what the water treatment facility does and what opportunities are available in Public Works.

Li Cohen
When she isn't drinking a [probably excessive] cup of coffee, Li is reading and writing about local, national and international news. She can also be seen running around NYC in preparation of marathon season and travelling to new lands. Make sure to check out her work at, send her an email at and follow her journeys on Twitter (@WritingLiYakira) and Instagram (@LiYakira).

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