By Devlin Smith
At the end of March, the seventh grade teachers at North Middle School in Belleville, Mich., sent home a letter explaining that students would be learning about Africa during the fourth quarter. To tie in with the lesson, the letter explained, the students would be working to raise money for African Well Fund to build a well.
Since the letter went out, students have been learning about Africa and AWF, using that knowledge to encourage other students, their parents and members of their community to make a donation. The students raised $500 within the first week of the fundraiser and are on their way to exceeding their $3,500 goal.
The seventh graders’ efforts have already attracted the attention of local media, including the Belleville View and Detroit News. A page on the school’s Web site is tracking the progress of the fundraiser, as well as linking to articles written about it and providing the community with more information on water issues in Africa.
Steven Hudock, a seventh grade teacher at North who’s helping organize this fundraising project, discussed why it was important for his students to get involved and how anyone can support the students in reaching their goal.
How did the seventh graders at your school originally decide to raise money for the African Well Fund?
The seventh graders in Mr. Hoepfner’s and my classes throughout the year were encouraged and required to create a community service project and present it to class for feedback and suggestions. Then they had to plan how they would go about doing their community service project. Many students had great plans. They could create a school, local, state, national or global plan. Some students even tried carrying out their plans. The students showed great interest and enthusiasm for their projects, which inspired the two of us to layout a plan of our own modeled after what we were requiring the students to do.
We teach Africa during the fourth quarter and I had read an article in a local paper about a gentleman trying to raise money for water wells in Africa.
When did the fundraiser start and when will it end?
We officially launched the fundraiser March 31 to the entire seventh grade. As teachers we started planning about the end of January and started to work with six students from the two seventh grade teams of students. These students watched your video and were informed about some of the troubles with water in Africa. They then presented our project to the North Middle School staff and then the NMS Parent Teacher Organization. They also asked the PTO to sponsor the spaghetti dinner.
Since the reveal to the entire seventh grade, students have each individually written how they are going to be involved and what they are going to do to contribute to this cause. Some students are sponsoring their own can drives, creating boxes for donations at their parents’ work places, even giving up candy and toys and saving their money to donate. Some students plan on helping at the dinner and some have practiced and done presentations to the sixth and eighth graders. All students can make a donation of $1 or more and write their name on a die-cut of Africa which will be hung in our hallway showing that they contributed.
How is this fundraiser tying in to the seventh grade curriculum? What are some lessons and activities the students and teachers have done during this fundraiser?
This fundraiser ties into the curriculum in that we teach about Africa’s history, culture, economy, geography, etc. in social studies class. Every seventh grade teacher teaches an enrichment class in which we took our project a step further. Each content area created lessons that would tie into our project and taught these during the first week of our project to our students to get them more involved and knowledgeable about the project.
In science classes, students learned about the diseases and parasites people can get from drinking unclean water. They were shown pictures of these parasites in bodies and discussed some of the diseases caused by unhealthy water and sanitation.
In English classes, students used the topics of water and Africa in their poetry and are now writing editorial letters to local newspapers to generate support. Some students are even writing to celebrities like Oprah.
In math class, students were asked to chart their family’s water usage over their Easter break and then using proportions estimate the amount of water they used and how long it would take to fetch a day’s water if they had to like the Africans—one-and-a-half months.
In social studies we showed students another movie about water in Africa and discussed the economic and educational benefits of a well to a village and its people. We also did some discussion about why many African countries couldn’t help themselves. Students will continue to explore and learn why the countries of Africa are in the state they are in for the rest of this year.
How are the students raising money?
Beyond what I have already mentioned, students have traveled to local businesses asking them for donations for our spaghetti dinner raffle, as well as asking them to display signs and pass out flyers to community members. The spaghetti dinner itself is the other major way students are trying to raise money. We are asking for a $3 per person donation and a $1 donation for students to play in the gym. All this money will be donated since the PTO is paying for the food. We also mailed donation requests and spaghetti dinner invites to the 900 employees of the Van Buren Public Schools as well as elected officials from the school board up to the U.S Senators who represent Belleville.
What is your fundraising goal?
The goal for the fund raiser is $1,500–3,500. We wanted to make sure we could reach a goal of one well and this is what was indicated to us. However, after only two weeks we have raised around $1,400, so I would say our goal now is to beat the $3,500.
What kind of response have you gotten from students throughout the course of this fundraiser?
Students are very excited and involved. They have been doing a terrific job getting donations from their families and others. They have also done a great job getting the sixth and eighth graders involved. More importantly, the students are much more engaged in their learning in social studies class. Students who have typically been less than interested in class appear to be more involved and active in their learning.
What kind of response have you gotten from parents and the community?
Parents have been very support in helping their students get donations from work. I have one student who had their mom e-mail all the insurance branches in their network which has generated $70 so far. More importantly parents have been e-mailing me ideas as to how their child is getting involved. They are also supportive in getting students to meetings before and after school. The community has been mailing in donations and businesses have donated quite a few gifts and certificates for our dinner raffle.
What lessons do you think your students have learned from doing this? Why do you think it was important for your students to get involved in raising money for a charity like the African Well Fund?
We want our students to realize the benefits they have and take better notice of what they have and not waste the resources they use. We want students to take advantage of the opportunities they have, like an education, and be able to support themselves and give back the community in the future. More importantly, we want our students to think globally and realize that change in some places isn’t going to come without their help for future generations, and that by helping improve the world in return it will improve their own lives. Many students are getting this and have expressed this to us and news reports, not to mention the lessons we want then to learn about Africa in social studies class.
How can AWF supporters help in your school’s efforts?
Your supporters can encourage their relatives from our area to come to our spaghetti dinner on April 24th. If they would like to directly contribute, they can send donations to North Middle School, c/o Steve Hudock, 47097 McBride, Belleville, MI 48111.
What advice would you offer to other schools looking to hold a similar fundraiser?
I would advise schools to have as many people involved as possible managing the project. It is a huge undertaking but one that is truly worthwhile. I would get students involved in going to businesses, this is a great experience for your students. I would encourage them to document what is happening and the events they have planned. We have been video recording our students doing different tasks and plan on showing a video at our presentation assembly. Plan ahead as we did and know that it could get bigger than you expected.
View the flyer advertising the North Middle School spaghetti dinner here.
View the donation form students have sent out to their community here.
By Devlin Smith