Today, I was invited to be part of an extraordinary experience at Forbush High School in Yadkin County Schools. The event involved the culmination of a unit long thematic study of the book “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park. This novel had been read and studied by most students in the 10th grade English II classes taught by Becky Dorman and Lori Cave. I was told that each of these teachers were amazing educators and they definitely lived up to that. The two had planned a thematic unit to expose their students to the experience of other young people in Africa centered around their constant need for access to clean drinking water. I found the fact that a duo of teachers at the high school level worked so closely and collaboratively to ensure that their students had exposure to global perspectives that appear to be very far removed from their own experiences to be extraordinary as I know the challenges associated with teachers planning together.
When we walked into the gymnasium where the event was held, the group was orderly and waiting to begin. There were several tables set up in the center of the gymnasium where certain groups with a connection to the theme of the book were present. One group was the local YMCA who had coordinated activities to allow the students to determine how much energy and calories are required for young people to spend eight hours a day walking to collect fresh drinking water. They also included a nutrition connection. Another group present was the Boy Scouts who provided survival tips and advice for living in comparable environments similar to those present in the novel. There were several groups present who also helped with water filtration and related areas. These educators had spent time really thinking about how to create a culminating experience that would be memorable and impactful to students.
The highlight of the event involved students walking around the gym with both empty and full jugs of water. All students were asked to complete one lap around the gym with both the empty and full jugs of water. The students were challenged, if they wanted, to walk a full mile with both the empty and full jugs of water around the gym. I was impressed by how many students willingly opted to walk the full mile with both types of jugs. They truly sought to enhance their understanding of what it is like to have to walk several miles to collect fresh water. Students were also given a “passport” to ensure that they completed all activities; those who completed all activities could submit their “passport” to enter the drawing for some spectacular door prizes.
These activities were definitely an incredible experience for students. But the educators pushed their students to go further and they did. They challenged them to truly move from simply being knowledgeable to creating an impact through collecting donations. The school had a goal of collecting at least $1000. This amount would allow for a permanent well to be drilled and constructed in a village in South Sudan, which experiences some of the most challenging access to clean drinking water in the world. As we were leaving the event, we were informed by the teachers that they had exceeded their goal. Any additional funds will go to support the construction of a school as well.
During the event, the group heard from Purity who grew up in Kenya. She had created an organization that works to respond to many of the needs that individuals in East Africa are faced with including access to clean drinking water and food insecurity. She shared her personal story of growing up in Kenya and the challenges that her family faced as they fought for freedom from colonialism. Her personal story helped many of the students to develop empathy and understanding of individuals half way across the world. As a result of this event, these students in Yadkin County now had a connection and understanding to individuals across the world. This experience allows their students to expand their world view in a way that will forever benefit them.
I had the opportunity to speak with two outstanding students: Yorland and Chloe. Yorland shared that he enjoyed reading the book. He also stated that although he was aware of the issues associated with access to clean water for many around the world, he now fully understood the challenges that they face with water scarcity. He mentioned that he was happy to know that the work that they had done in class and the donations that they collected would make a difference for those individuals. Chloe told me that she never realized how much of a struggle that access to clean drinking water was for so many around the world. She said that reading this book helped a lot and she developed more empathy for those individuals impacted by this issue. She also realized that there is much that she takes for granted each day and she will be more aware of what she takes for granted.
Seeing the synergy created through the effective and well executed planning of these two teachers and the difference that it made in the lives of their students left me speechless. I thought about what the students experienced and learned. At the heart of this is these students learned how to grow their own empathy for individuals that they may never meet. They also began to realize that the world is much larger than just Yadkin County. They also develop an appreciation for what they have. As someone who taught sophomores for over 15 years, I can attest that any learning experiences that results in students realizing that the world is much larger than their immediate surroundings while growing empathy for others is a challenging task for sure. Fortunately these students met and exceeded these challenges for sure. Someone shared with me that Yadkin County is “an amazing place where we care about each other.” They definitely lived up to this mantra today. My hope is that this event will help encourage additional collaboration among teachers throughout the school as they can begin to realize that their students are eager for experiences that prepare them for life after high school. These students learned much more than can be measured on a standardized test. The lessons that these students learned will carry though their life and the educators and school are to be commended for truly making decisions that are the best for their students. And yes, Yadkin County is an amazing place where people care so much for each other, even those around the world that they may never meet.
If you would like to help with the fundraising efforts, please mail a check to Forbush High School to the attention of either Becky Dorman or Lori Cave. They would love to have your support to make a difference in South Sudan.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.