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The City Journals

West Jordan Middle students dig deep into novel for water well

Mar 29, 2019 11:04AM ● By Jet Burnham

Available for auction are note cards featuring traditional Kente cloth design from Ghana created by carved lino stamps, sold in sets of five with envelopes. (Cara Bailey/WJMS)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

A 2010 novel, “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, is the catalyst for a multifaceted project for students at West Jordan Middle School. 

The book tells the story of the water crisis in Sudan, from two perspectives. One is that of a girl who can’t go to school because she has to gather water for her family from a faraway well each day. The other part of the story is told by Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who established Water for South Sudan, a nonprofit that drills water wells in Sudanese villages. 

Ninth-graders will be reading the novel, researching the water crisis and exploring African culture and art in preparation for a fundraising auction for Dut’s organization.

“Through putting action behind our learning, I want my students to catch the lifelong learning bug and get addicted to learning, understanding and contributing to the world at large,” said Paige Wightman, a language arts teacher. “I wanted students to feel empowered through community (or in our case, global) service. They are a powerful source for good but need the context and education to know how to utilize that good to cause change.”

After reading the novel and researching its setting, students will create a sample website that summarizes the novel and educates others about the water crisis.

“The book is written at a fifth-grade level, so I’m doing a lot of additional things for them to understand and research,” said Wightman. “They will understand why it’s a water crisis in Africa and that there is something we can do to help.”

In art classes, students will create African-inspired artwork to be sold at an auction to raise money for Water for South Sudan.

The cost to drill one well in Sudan is $15,000.

“We’re not expecting to raise $15,000, but we are definitely telling them that that’s our goal,” said Wightman.

The public is invited to the auction, which will be held in the West Jordan Middle School library on April 10, 6–8 p.m. Artwork will be for sale and donations will be accepted. Business owners are invited to match donations.

Wightman reminds community members that attending the auction is also a good opportunity to see the school one last time before it is torn down and replaced by the new building.

Last year’s ninth-graders did the same project and fundraiser. Their auction was successful, thanks to parents and teachers who ensured all the art pieces were purchased. This year, students would like to have more community involvement.

Additional fundraising efforts include specific nights at local restaurants that will donate a percentage of the night’s earnings to the charity. For more information, follow West Jordan Middle School on Facebook.

The artwork being auctioned will showcase a variety of styles and techniques inspired by African art. There will be silhouettes of the African Savanna done in watercolors and Ivory Coast Adinkra symbols featured in oil pastels.

Also for auction will be note cards featuring traditional Kente cloth design from Ghana created by carved lino stamps, sold in sets of five with envelopes.

WJMS art teacher Cara Bailey believes exploring the art of different cultures helps students feel a connection with others.

“When students learn about cultures outside their own, they gain a greater perspective on people and places that may be very distant,” she said.

It also helps students connect with their peers who are immigrants and refugees from other countries.

“When we learn about the cultures those kids are coming from, there is a greater sense of acceptance and understanding,” said Bailey.

Ultimately, the project will provide perspective for students.

“I hope that my students come away with a greater appreciation for the things in their lives they typically take for granted such as access to clean water, a free education and a generally safe living environment,” said Bailey. “I also hope that my students come away inspired to create change when and where they can. I hope that they learn that even very small contributions can make a difference for real people.”