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Global Education

How One School is Taking Action to Achieve Clean Water for All

Christina Daniels built a giant paper water bottle on the wall outside her school’s cafeteria where students could see it every day as they walked into the lunchroom. Students saw “water” filling up the bottle each day, whispering excitedly to one another about meeting their fundraising goal to build a well in sub-Saharan Africa. Their “Be the Change, Bring the Change” service learning project was a week-long, school-wide experience that involved every teacher and student.

Forest Hills Global Elementary‘s vision is “Explore the world. Be the change.” Christina Daniels, the global studies coordinator at the public school in Wilmington, NC, said the school has integrated global learning for the last eight to 10 years.

“Now we are trying to take it to the next step and be a solution to problems we see in the world,” Daniels said. She and her principal, Boni Hall, started learning about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through online courses and realized they could integrate academic concepts with solving real-world, global challenges.

“We are using the SDGs and global aspects to hook students into learning, making them feel important and part of something bigger, experiences they are not necessarily getting at home,” Daniels said.

Their “Be the Change, Bring the Change” project idea came from staff researching international holidays and UN days, one of which is World Water Day (March 22). World Water Day focuses on universal access to clean water and sanitation for people all over the world, which is also the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6. The school’s administration team decided to start a school fundraiser around this theme and brought the idea to teachers.

Together, they ultimately decided to do a week-long service learning project in which they would fundraise to build a well in sub-Saharan Africa.

Daniels conducted a lesson about water quality around the world in each classroom throughout the school, encouraging teachers to extend the lesson to other activities. Daniels asked students to envision ways they use water in their everyday lives, connecting this to a local water quality issue in their own city, Wilmington. One kindergarten teacher took her students on a “field trip” around the school, asking custodians and cafeteria staff how they used water every day in their jobs. The physical education teacher had students do relay races carrying jugs of water, and then walk outside for one mile carrying water, simulating how far many people around the world walk to access water every day.

Daniels created big paper water drops where students wrote about how they could conserve water and make a difference all throughout the week. Since students wear uniforms, staff knew this could be a fun way to get students excited about fundraising – each day of that week, students brought in different types of change and got to wear different clothing.

  • Tuesday: Pajama Pennies Day
  • Wednesday: Neon Nickels Day
  • Thursday: Crazy Quarters Day
  • Friday: Dazzling Dimes Day

Staff also got parents and the community involved by sending home fliers about water conservation and sharing classroom activities on Twitter.

Daniels’ giant paper water bottle outside the school’s cafeteria allowed students to see progress toward their goal of raising $500 by the end of the week.

“This was the best project we did all year. It felt authentic,” Daniels said. “Kids felt like they were making a difference. They loved seeing the giant water bottle fill up with change every day when they walked by the cafeteria. The teachers loved seeing the difference in the students.” By the end of the week, the school had raised almost $1,000 and donated the money to The Water Project, which builds and maintains wells all over the world to ensure access to clean fresh water.

Not only had students learned a lot about this issue, but they also started conserving water and changing their habits.

“They were talking about not wasting water in the bathroom and at the water fountain. Kids would get a whole cup of water at lunch and not throw it away, which is a big change,” Daniels said.

By the end of the week, staff knew they wanted to do another service-learning project, and now the school is focusing on hunger issues and awareness.

Daniels said exploring real-world challenges and being part of the solution gives students hope that they can make their community a better place.

“Our children don’t think there’s a lot they can do to make life better, but we’ve shown them we can make a change,” she said.

Follow Forest Hills Global Elementary on Twitter to learn more about how they are uniting the world through global learning.

If you want to learn more about teaching the SDGs, join this community of like-minded educators and get access to free courses and classroom resources.

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