It all started with author/photographer Rick Smolan’s visit as part of the Harker Speaker Series. That visit spurred the founding of the MS Blue Planet Group and culminated with the visit of Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water.
Eighth grade science teacher Lorna Claerbout and many of her students went to hear Smolan speak. “Smolan’s talk opened my eyes to the need for clean water worldwide,” said group member Emily Wang, Gr.8.
Varun Gudapti, Gr. 8, added “he gave me the knowledge to make others aware of the impact of water.” Classmate Sondra Costa suggested the group could raise money to support one of Smolan’s “water heroes,” Scott Harrison, whose charity charity: water uses 100 percent of donations to build wells to get potable water to people in need.
Thus was born the Blue Planet Group. “About 45 people showed up to our first meeting,” said Lori Berenberg, Gr. 8. “Since then, we have focused on getting organized into committees that have their own focus in educating and fundraising to achieve our goal of funding a well,” she said. The group managed to raise $5,000, enough for the building of a new well in Africa, and doubling their original goal of $2,500.
Harrison heard about the Harker effort and offered to visit while on a visit at the end of May to speak at Apple, Google and Twitter. Harrison came first to the MS campus, then to the US campus to address student assemblies.
Just before the assembly began, Harrison tweeted, “about to talk to kids in San Jose about water. I used to hate first period!” After the assemblies he tweeted about “awesome kids at Harker.” In fact, he was so impressed with the original educational posters created by the Blue Planet Group that he took a photo of one and put it on posted a tweet of it, noted Claerbout.
Harrison’s impact was felt immediately and Berenberg posted comments to the club’s forum right after the visit: ”Well, the big day has come and gone. Scott Harrison gave his speech, and personally, I think it was a great success. I know a lot of my friends who weren’t really into it before are now so excited to help and realize that the clean water crisis is a real issue. That is really what we were trying to achieve here and we got it! I’m so proud of everyone because if it weren’t for each and every one of us, he wouldn’t have come and we would be nowhere near where we are today.”
Students have used a variety of efforts to educate and raise funds, including a school meeting presentation, a bake sale, a photo booth, and a water-themed school dance. “We decided it would be great if we could make it water-themed so people … understand what they are donating to if they gave money to the Blue Planet Group,” said Berenberg.
“The middle school students have been passionately working on the issue since Smolan’s presentation, so it was a fantastic way for the students to not only wrap up their current fundraising project, but help them continue their momentum when they start at our upper school next year. A partnership between middle and high school students has been proposed and is the works for next year,” said Claerbout.
In addition to the student club, water is the focus of a number of class projects. Angela Neff, Assistant Director of Instructional Technology at the Middle School and computer science teacher, noted her Population Studies classes have been “focusing their research on the international water crisis all year as a part of our Global 20/20 program sponsored by NAIS,” she said, further noting, “Tim (Culbertson’s) (computer science) classes are doing infectious diseases which are deeply exacerbated by water: too much, too little, or too dirty.”
Finally, Spanish teacher Susan Moling said her Unit 5 in Spanish class is all about conservation. “My students just made some amazing mini-posters about conservation including water, culminating in video public service announcements created in Spanish. I think the cross-curricular application is wonderful and gives the kids a real sense of pride knowing that everyone is working on such a critical issue,” she said.
For next year, Jennifer Abraham, global education director, is working with interested eighth grade teachers on a water project in collaboration with the Bayn Garden School in Saudi Arabia. Locally the focus will be to learn more about our own watershed and water issues here in California.