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Oceanside's Thirst for Change: When Informed Action WORKS

Thirst for change.pngGuest post by Angela Abend.

It will not be replicated as it was not developed in 1 inch by 1 inch squares in a teacher's already-cluttered plan book. It grew organically in and of the hearts, minds, and hands of children throughout the school district.

It was not purchased or downloaded from a Teachers Pay Teachers account or developed from a mandatory PD course complete with the latest acronyms and buzzwords.

IT was our "A Thirst for Change" project completed by the 6th graders in Oceanside's PROJECT EXTRA program and IT was born from an idea from the students of the World Interest Club (WIC) from the neighboring high school also located in Oceanside, N.Y. This is the story of how this one project came to be and how it continues to create change in our little corner of the world... and beyond.

A knock came on the classroom door in early spring of the year before and Nathan, a rising senior and WIC leader, asked if his club could work with the students in the PROJECT EXTRA program in the upcoming semester. He was a PROJECT EXTRA alum and worked with the WIC students when he was a student in the program. No theme was established at that point, but we knew this would be a possibility. Without either one us knowing it, "A Thirst for Change" was set into motion long before the next school year would even begin.

Then, a perfect storm of both story and audience touched down on Oceanside that September—the publication of the breath-taking picture book The Water Princess, written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds. The Water Princess is the childhood story of African-born model Georgie Badiel and it tells of her daily walk to water through the most delicate weaving of beautiful language and illustration. We hoped that this heart-felt story would be the catalyst for this collaboration. The high school students put their wheels into motion and created an incredible video reading of The Water Princess to be shared with the elementary school children. Would this story inspire them as it did us? Time would soon tell and fingers were crossed.

Luckily, the 6th graders read the story, watched the video, and they were in awe. These were "cool" students from the high school sharing a powerful story with them based on fact and based on truth. At that point, there was nothing that could make this learning experience more authentic. Or was there? One group of 6th graders had the opportunity to Skype with the main character of The Water Princess, Georgie Badiel, and another with the author, Susan Verde. Peter Reynolds, illustrator extraordinaire, reached out to the students on social media to recognize their passion and interest in his work in The Water Princess.

Social media also connected the students to Christine Ieronimo, author of another picture book, A Thirst for Home". Ms. Ieronimo reached out to the students of Oceanside through Twitter after learning of their #AThirstForChange campaign and then shared her daughter's journey as a child in Ethiopia through a Skype conference. The students found many parallels between her story and the story of Princess Gie Gie (Georgie Badiel) of Susan Verde's The Water Princess.

The walls of the classroom continued to crumble as the students continued to connect to others who would authenticate their learning. Their audience became world-wide and #AThirstForChange was no longer "just a project in school." Students researched many aspects of the world's water crisis and shared them electronically with their WIC mentors via Google Slides.

Virtual reality trips were taken to the building of wells in Africa and videos were watched highlighting water issues in underprivileged nations and in our own "backyard" of Flint, Mich. In addition to the authors they Skyped with, students also read and shared Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water and, via social media, inspired a class in Ontario to read The Water Princess and to create videos that were enthusiastically shared with the children of Oceanside.

Our students were now surrounded by this issue at every turn, but from within, they knew they were responsible to now create change. They, of course, chose the Georgie Badiel Foundation as the fundraising recipient of their growing #AThirstForChange campaign and their diligence and dedication would soon be put to the test.

Their high school mentors were already collecting and recycling water bottles so the elementary students collected and recycled from each of the elementary schools, solidifying #AThirstForChange as a full-on community project. In addition, a GoFundMe page was set up and as students shared their stories with their families and friends, significant donations rolled in on a daily basis.

Their research, their connections, and their fundraising would soon come to a summit, and a day of community sharing was planned. Each group presented their research and the fundraising check was given to Ms. Badiel who graciously accepted the children's invitation to attend on their special day. The WIC students worked with their younger counterparts to polish up their public-speaking skills and they invited one of their very own teachers to speak of her experience as a child who had to "walk for water" as Georgie did.

A local councilman attended to present Georgie with a certificate to recognize her positive influence on the children of Oceanside. Second graders from one of the elementary schools joined in to meet Georgie and present her with a fundraising check of their very own. Copies of The Water Princess were also donated to each of the elementary schools in the district and to the community library.

This culminating event was truly a highlight in my close-to-30-year teaching career. For the children? Many shared that their highlight was hearing Ms. Badiel speak that day, making their two-month journey one of value, substance, and importance. At that moment, in hearing her story spoken in a tone just above a whisper, #AThirstForChange became very "real" and life-changing for many in attendance.

And it continued. Student representatives shared their #AThirstForChange project at the Students of Long Island Maker Expo (SLIME) at the Cradle of Aviation and took home second place out of 76 schools, earning an additional donation to the Georgie Badiel Foundation. Two elementary students from Oceanside have chosen to work towards increasing awareness of the world's water crisis and have selected Georgie's foundation for their future Girl Scouts medal project. Local and online periodicals continue to interview students and have published write-ups of the #AThirstForChange project.

Perhaps the greatest follow-up has come from Ms. Badiel herself: photos and videos from the children of Burkina Faso thanking the children of Oceanside for helping restore wells at their schools. These children now have access to fresh, clean drinking water as a result of the fundraising efforts of schoolchildren from far away, but close in a way we would have never imagined at the beginning of this project.

Yes, this was informed action "done right" because it not only made a difference in the minds and spirits of our students, but in their hearts, where TRUE change is made, and can be made, again and again.

Enjoy a photo montage from #AThirstForChange here.

Angela Abend is a veteran teacher in the Oceanside School District where she is presently the gifted/enrichment specialist.

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