Elyse Kaner: — Students in Tricia Miller's classes at Westwood Middle School recently raised $876, the largest amount so far among her world cultures classes, to help people half-way around the world.
“I do the project to teach the students that the world is a lot bigger than Blaine, Minn.,” Miller said.
In an effort to foster empathy and the joy of giving, Miller put a different spin on this trimester's student service learning project to help deliver clean water to third world countries.
This time, kids in her sixth- and seventh-grade world cultures classes walked a half-mile near the school while balancing jugs filled with one gallon of water on their heads. That's at least how far people in some other countries have to walk to get water, much of which is polluted. Some walk five to 10 miles a day, students learned.
“Half way through the (school's) walk, it wasn't fun anymore. Students said, 'do I really have to keep this on my head?'” Miller said.
They donated their allowances
In the first trimester of the school year, Miller's world cultures classes raised $780 to send to Nothing But Nets. The charitable organization sends funds to Africa for the purchase of nets to help stop the spread of malaria among children.
Last trimester, her students raised more than $550 to purchase a cow and some chickens as part of the Heifer International project.
Sixth-grader Taylor Bickman was one of a few students at Westwood who beaded bracelets and sold them for 25 cents a piece and then donated the money.
“I learned it's not just about us,” she said. “It's about other people and we need to help them if we want to get help.”
This trimester the funds will go to Water for Life, Life Outreach International out of El Paso, Texas.
The money will go toward building a well, possibly in Africa or Haiti, places that don't have access to clean water. Costs to build a well are about $4,800, according to Miller.
“I was impressed with how much they caredâ€¦ just their ability to be empathetic,” Miller said about her students.
In introducing the unit, Miller showed a video of a boy gathering water from a polluted river, while a warthog was urinating just upstream.
Miller's classes didn't go the fund-raiser route this trimester. Rather they pooled their own money, went door to door in their neighborhoods or asked their parents to donate.
Others did chores and donated their allowances to the cause. Some industrious students beaded bracelets and sold them at school.
Taylor Bickman, a sixth-grader, was one of the girls who made bracelets, which she sold for 25 cents a pop.
Taylor was surprised to learn that some people in other countries have no choice but to drink water littered with garbage and dirt.
“I learned it's not just about us,” she said. “It's about other people and we need to help them if we want to get help,” she said.
Miller was amazed at how much money the students donated. She also breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the fund drive.
At the start of the campaign, she had nonchalantly promised her students she would dye her hair blue if they reached a goal of $1,200. She thought she was treading on safe ground because they weren't holding a fund-raiser as they had in the past. Her thinking was that they wouldn't raise as much money.
But kids have a way of rallying.
They collected money from May 1 through May 25. The first day of the campaign, her four classes of 150 students, brought in $175. “We came close,” Miller said about nearly having to fulfill her promise of blue hair.
As for the kids carrying water jugs on their heads, many were unable to do so. The load became too cumbersome.
“This hurts,” some said. A few dropped the bottles and water spilled out. Miller reminded them of people who would have had to walk back miles to the river to refill their jugs had their water spilled.
Some students had a go at balancing a five-gallon jug of water on their heads. They soon found it too difficult and painful a task, but a task others do daily in underdeveloped countries.
Looking ahead, Miller plans to do student service projects in her world cultures classes next year. She'll, most likely, stay with the clean water effort, she said.
“The students learn how privileged they are to live in the United States. The value of a drinking fountain,” Miller said.