Students learn about water, empathy, citizenship in fundraising effort
By Eileen Persike
What do Rhinelander third graders and clean water in Africa have in common? Many things, as it turns out. The students are in the final days of a “penny challenge” to raise money for water filters to provide clean drinking water for villages in several African countries.
The idea to help people half way around the world originated with NCES third grade teacher Jenny Prom. A few years ago, as a second grade teacher at Crescent Elementary, Prom read the book, “Water Princess,” to her students. The story tells the tale of a young African girl who walks miles every day to get water for her family, and the lengths the family goes to make the water safe to drink.
“Their empathy for the little girl in the story was admirable and motivating,” Prom said. “They wanted to help.”
She reached out to her father-in-law, Mike Prom, who is the director of Wise Intentional Leadership Development (WILD) in Rhinelander, with the students’ desire to make a difference. Through Mike’s involvement in WILD, he became their link to people from Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, and many others through church pastors with whom he had regular contact. At that time, pre-COVID, the students had a bake sale and lemonade stand at lunchtime. The first-hand connection between Rhinelander students and African towns meant that all the money raised goes directly to buying the filters.
“Mike would fill suitcases with water filters and bring them to Africa,” Jenny said. “And when the pastors came here, they would return with suitcases full of filters.”
“The main emphasis of WILD is leadership development,” Mike said. “Offering water filters to those we work with is helping out in a small way with some of the physical needs we encounter when teaching leadership.”
The penny challenge went district-wide this year, to also include Crescent, Pelican and Central elementary schools. As luck – or curriculum – would have it, the third grade EL (language arts) module being studied currently focuses on Water Around the World; students are learning about access to water, demands on water and water pollution.
“The third-grade team of the Rhinelander School District united to show the world that Hodags are heroes,” Jenny said. “How wonderful that our four elementary schools could work together for this incredible cause.”
The goal is to raise an average of $400 per school, which would provide four towns the size of Rhinelander clean drinking water for four years. The class the raises the most money in each school wins an ice cream treat.
As part of the Water Around the World lesson, students created posters with facts and pictures of places where clean drinking water is an issue. They are also writing opinion essays to Mayor Chris Frederickson about the importance of water conservation. And finally, the third graders will plan and record a video public service announcement to educate people about a specific water issue and to encourage them to take action with specific recommendations to solve the problem.
“EL Education also focuses on Habits of Character as a root of our learning,” Jenny explained. “It coincides with our social emotional learning within our guidance lessons. Students are continuously working to become ethical, responsible and compassionate people. They learn to take initiative and show citizenship while improving communities.”
What better way, Prom noted, to teach them that they are not just a citizen in their school, city or country; but part of the human race.
“It makes me feel better knowing that I’m helping kids just like me, be able to drink clean water,” said NCES third grader William McCone.
“I tell my students that above learning the standards that we are required to teach, the most important thing that they should aim to master is being kind,” Jenny said. “I hope they continue to lead by example, always working toward making the world a better place.”
The Penny Challenge ends Friday, April 23. Anyone wishing to make a donation can call Prom at NCES, 715-282-8200, ext. 1102 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.