School Initiative “Aqua-Agents”

From Hamburg Enters Chicago Kristina Raab, Aqua-Agent-Office Hamburg

The sister cities Hamburg and Chicago share a lot of similarities; one of them is the overall presence of water. The citizens of Hamburg love to take a walk along the Elbe River or go rowing on the Alster, the Chicagoans appreciate the Riverwalk along the Chicago River or cycle along Lake Michigan. In both cities waterways are not only used for pleasure, but they are also vital for business. For example, Hamburg’s harbor is the largest in Germany and therefore a major business hub and Lake Michigan is Chicago’s main drinking water resource. But in the end what really unites these great two cites is their commitment to protect their nature and waterfronts.

All these perspectives come together in the educational initiative “Aqua-Agents” for school kids from the age of 8 to 11. The project started in 2009 in Hamburg. Its main goal is to show students not only how important water is for humans, for nature, and for the economy, but also how they can treat this special element in a sustainable way in everyday life. To achieve this goal, we developed classroom materials, organized field trips to places such as the wastewater treatment plant in Hamburg, and developed surveys where students asked and informed pedestrians about different issues related to water. Several institutions such as the Michael Otto Foundation for Environmental Protection, Hamburg Wasser (responsible for water supply and wastewater management in Hamburg) and Hamburger Hafen and Logistik AG (container terminal operator, Port of Hamburg) help us make the initiative possible.

Photo: „AQUA-AGENTEN-Büro/K. Raab“


The Aqua-Agents in Chicago

With the sister city partnership between Hamburg and Chicago, we were able to bring part of the initiative to Chicago. Our partner in Chicago is the Goethe-Institut. It only took Kristina Raab, who is responsible for the initiative in Hamburg, and Anja Schmitt, German Language Consultant at the Goethe-Institut, from June until September 2014 to incorporate the idea in Chicago.The first phase includes two schools , one class from the German International School Chicago and six classes from Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School. Together with Aqua-Agents, they complete their tasks that are broken down into four thematic blocks which include water supply, wastewater management, water habitat, and economic area water. Students have to find answers to different “water-missions“ such as

How do people living elsewhere get their water?
How much water do I need daily?
Does every toilet use a flush or are there other solutions?
What is the cause of water pollution?
Which way do containers take?
Why do rivers look different?

Additional tasks focus on the sister city partnership  where students are asked to find out differences and similarities between Hamburg and Chicago or Germany and the USA (like daily water use; rivers, lakes, waterfront; protection of water etc). Later on in the school year, they will get in touch with their partner school in Hamburg and compare their results.
During a small event at Riverside Plaza in Chicago, 12 students from both schools were able to conduct a small survey and to ask pedestrians about their knowledge of water, i.g. water that is needed for the production of goods. Grouped in small teams, they informed over 90 people about water issues and asked them if they would help protect water at the end of the survey. And, as you can imagine, nobody said no to those courageous and smart kids. Not only do these kids know a lot about water, but they also had the courage to speak about it to adults. At the end of the event, we had 12 happy and excited kids, eating pizza and excitedly sharing their experience with the passerbies. It was great to see how confident these students were in campaigning for our special element water.
Future thoughts

We are very interested in the feedback of teachers and students to help us to improve our new initiative in the U.S. During her stay in Chicago, Kristina Raab had many  successful meetings with institutions such as the Chicago Public School System and the Sister Cities Committee. Every single stakeholder encouraged us to continue the initiative in Chicago. Our next steps will be the optimization of the materials and the development of a German glossary giving us another opportunity to foster German language and culture in the U.S. We are excited about the opportunity to teach more kids to become Aqua-Agents in Chicago in the future.

The Chicago debut of Aqua-Agents would not have been possible without the support from Goethe-Institut and Michael Otto Foundation.

Kristina Raab (Aqua-Agent-Office Hamburg),, or on Facebook
(Aqua-Agenten) and Twitter @AquaAgenten

Anja Schmitt, Language Consultant Goethe-Institut Chicago,