| Gadzooks! Water Ninjas to the rescue, preserving and protecting water!
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Gadzooks! Water Ninjas to the rescue, preserving and protecting water!

A dynamic duo of Water Ninjas operates behind the scenes at Fairfax Water in Virginia. Their mission: to understand, preserve and protect the waters of Planet Earth.

Water Ninjas Avie and GuyThe animated Water Ninjas – Avie and Guy -- exist within the pages of a series of comic books commissioned by Fairfax Water to educate students about water science while incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) curricula.

The STEAM Team comic books are the creation of award-winning writer/illustrator Jean Gralley, who was the staff artist at Cricket Magazine for 14 years before writing and illustrating picture books full-time. She collaborated with specialists at Fairfax Water and a local STEAM teacher to develop content aligned with standards of learning (SOL) requirements.

“The great thing about the comics is that they put the reader inside of a process, so they can experience it, rather than be taught about it,” Gralley said. “There’s a lot of mystery to how water gets to your faucet, and the comics get behind the scenes of that mystery and show the fun side of it, too.”

Water ninjas come ashore

The first STEAM Team comic adventure, Rain Riders, was released by Fairfax Water in 2015. It features friends Avie and Guy, who experience a smartphone application malfunction that sends them on a wild ride through the water cycle. 

The Water Ninjas comic concept was initiated when Jeanne Bennett-Bailey, former Fairfax Water public affairs officer and past president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA), asked Gralley to design materials that could be handed out during water treatment plant tours and educational programs within local schools. 

Susan Miller and Jean Gralley with Water Ninjas)Since then, Fairfax Water has published four additional comic adventures under the guidance of Susan Miller, public affairs manager.

“We’ve gotten a very enthusiastic response to the STEAM Team comics,” Miller said. “We’ve found that students respond best to activity projects such as these, with funny, quirky, reoccurring characters who help them have fun while they’re learning.” (Pictured, Susan Miller, left, and Jean Gralley with Water Ninjas at Fairfax Water celebration)

Highlighting teaching moments

One of the adventure stories, Water Ninjas and the Vortex of Time, celebrated Fairfax Water’s 60th anniversary in 2017 by exploring water systems from colonial times to the present. Large cutouts of Avie and Guy were on display at events, and artwork from the comics was featured in giveaways. (Pictured below, a cartoon segment describing water systems in colonial times)

Water in Fairfax County's history)Water science topics addressed through the comics include the water cycle, stages of water treatment, the scientific method, and environmental issues related to keeping source water healthy.

“Students want to learn about this type of environmental information and how they can take action to help,” Miller said. “The comic books are a unique and impactful way for them to learn, and to share the information with their parents.”

By making the comic books available in a digital magazine layout on its website, Fairfax Water is able to expand the reach of the information. “Educators and other organizations outside of our service territory have found the comics to be very useful,” Miller said. “We’ve gotten emails from out of state telling us how much they love them. It’s great to be able to share Jean’s fantastic work.”

Through creating the STEAM Team comics, Galley said she’s become a passionate water advocate. “I very enthusiastically research each topic so I can inform the public in an entertaining way about water science,” she said. “An informed public is an appreciative public, and some of the best people to spread public service messages are children.”
(Photos courtesy of Fairfax Water)