Thursday, February 29, 2024

Get Schooled: Hornsby Students Raise Money for South Sudan

Get Schooled IanThey have never met, but a group of students at Lois. S. Hornsby Middle School are changing the lives of people 7,000 miles away.

The students in Jennifer Brooks’s sixth grade English class are raising money for Water for South Sudan, a charity that seeks to increase access to clean water for rural communities in the African nation.

Less than two weeks after its beginning, the project has grown to include students at all grade levels at Hornsby, and community members beyond the school walls.

The fundraiser began as an extension of a class assignment. Brooks said she and a fellow teacher decided to center their classes this year around the theme of “building character through community and sacrifice.”

With that theme in mind, Brooks assembled a syllabus that included the book, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. The book features the true story of Salva Dut, one of Sudan’s “lost boys,” and the fictional story of Nya, a Sudanese girl who has to walk for hours to retrieve water for her village.

Brooks said the book seemed to align with the class theme for the year.

“It was a book I’d read over the summer and I fell in love with it,” she said. “The book just connected greatly with that [theme] – What can you sacrifice to help others?”

Brooks had her students read the book and create video blog entries recording their reactions to the story. For the students, the book’s effects were palpable.

“I’d heard about South Sudan becoming a country, but I didn’t really know anything about them,” sixth grader Varnum Bayless said. “The things they did – it’s just unimaginable. I can’t imagine me doing anything like they did.”

Brooks said she planned on incorporating a service project with the book, but her students quickly enlarged its scope.

“We were going to do a small fundraiser in the building,” she said. “They took it higher. They wanted a goal of $1,000 [raised].”

Students at Lois S. Hornsby Middle School have broken a goal of raising $1,000 for Water for South Sudan. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)
Students at Lois S. Hornsby Middle School have broken a goal of raising $1,000 for Water for South Sudan. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)

The $1,000 figure lined up with the “Iron Giraffe Challenge.” Named after the local phrase for the machines that pump the water wells in South Sudan, the challenge encourages schools to raise $1,000 a piece for the installation of the equipment, which can cost $15,000 per well.

The students began brainstorming ways to reach their goal, assigning roles for each student on different committees, including promoters, financial and visual arts.

In the first week of the project, Brooks’s class focused their efforts on other Hornsby students. They set up tables in the cafeteria and collected donations during lunch periods.

They raised more than $900 that first week. The fast start encouraged the students.

“On two consecutive days, we raised over $200 dollars from just sixth graders, which was amazing considering like, other fundraisers got $200 from the whole school,” sixth grader Ben Sheriff said.

The students said they were inspired in part by the efforts of activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai.

“I’ve read Malala’s book at least twice,” sixth grader Sarah Balding said. “She supports education for girls, and this fundraiser means girls don’t have to be the ones to get water, so they can go to school.”

By the second week, the students wanted to expand their fundraising efforts. Bayless created a Fundly page to allow people beyond the school walls to donate money over the internet.

“If we can manage to raise $900 in the first week with only Hornsby if we could manage to get to most of Williamsburg, then we could raise so much money and help out a whole lot more,’ Bayless said.

The students have raised more than $1,200 so far, and their collection efforts have not stopped. They sponsored a walk-a-thon Thursday to raise awareness of the distance South Sudanese villagers must walk to retrieve water.

The fundraiser is scheduled to end Friday, but the students have not slacked off, despite already having met their goal.

“It’s kind of like, oh they’re kids, they can’t really do anything,” sixth grader Charlie Burgess said. “We’re showing them even though we’re young, we can do things. We can make differences.”

To donate to the school’s fundraiser for South Sudan, visit its website available here.

Correction 3/20/2015: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of a student’s name. A previous version had an incorrect spelling.

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