Greenfield Middle School students raise $1,000 for clean water in South Sudan

  • Diana Hastings, a fifth-grade teacher at the Greenfield Math and Science Academy, with Zoe Ballou, Maddie Brandl, and Alex Menko, all fifth graders at Greenfield Middle School, and Ashley Fritzroy, a literacy and technology teacher in grades 5-7 at the middle school, with their banner from the Iron Giraffe challenge in which students from the middle school and the math and science academy raised more than $1,000 for the organization, Water for South Sudan. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt


Recorder Staff
Published: 5/8/2017 7:07:15 PM

GREENFIELD — The book was passed from one teacher to another.

“I read the book the next day, cover to cover, and then stayed watching videos to find out what happened,” Greenfield Middle School fifth-grade teacher Karen Murphy-Davis said.

The book, “A Long Walk To Water,” by Linda Sue Park, tells the story about the struggles that people in South Sudan face when trying to find clean water. Soon the book had been passed around and the teachers knew what book they would choose for their annual unit about water.

When Murphy-Davis was reading the novel about the difficulties of access to water to her students this year and within the first 20 pages they said, “We need to do something. She shouldn’t walk eight hours for water. They were begging to do something.”

What they did was start a fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Math and Science Academy fifth-grade teacher Diana Hastings. Her class and other classes led the way to help raise $1,000 for Water for South Sudan, which will go to building wells there.

“It exposes them to a reality that’s not in front of them,” Hastings said. “They complain about silly things and it shows them how much they have to be thankful for.”

Between a penny drive, bake sales, flower sales, bracelet sales and a few donations from faculty and families the students at Math and Science Academy and Greenfield Middle School were able to raise $1,000 this school year for a community across the globe.

“As they grow older and have a bigger sense of the world, it’ll set a stronger sense of foundation for them,” fellow fifth-grade teacher Barbara Unaitis said.

The water unit primarily focuses on the local community. Students do work on the Green River, helping to clean up the stream, but reading this book allowed them to visualize another world while learning about how small donations can make a big difference.

“It felt relieving for me by having all that feeling inside of you and then helping them raise money for water for them,” fifth-grader Maddie Brandl said.

Her classmate Alex Menko said, “I felt I was really capable of making things that were changeable.”

Between reading the novel and watching a video from South Sudan, the students were able to visualize what might have felt distant.

“I was kind of mortified when I saw the kind of water they were drinking because it was all dirty and muddy,” fifth grader Zoe Ballou said.

The students are currently raising money to fight leukemia, selling origami to raise funds for it.

“It makes you feel like it’s more possible since we did something like this,” Brandl said.

The middle-schoolers also paired their experience raising money for South Sudan with making a group documentary for the district’s seventh annual film festival.

With families filling in the seats of Greenfield High School’s auditorium, the documentary about access to clean water was shown — and then announced as the winner of the group category that accepts entries across grades.

Several of Hastings’ students came on stage with her to accept the trophy. Afterward, they reflected on the importance of the film to them.

“I was proud that we were able to help out people who didn’t have water,” fifth-grader Jaydon Grazick said, who also won the top award of the night for his own film.

Classmate Sailor Cohen added, “It was eye-opening how hard it is for them.”

For one of the key contributors to the film and to the fundraiser, fifth-grader Sean Babineau gave his reaction with two thumbs-up and a big smile.

Next year, the teachers hope that the students are as engaged with the book, and continue to get help with the program again from Greening Greenfield, Greenfield Education Foundation and the Connecticut River Watershed Council. If the students express a desire to help out with building a well again, then the teachers will set up the fundraiser again.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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