Academics
Middle School

Crossing and Connecting

The moving stories of two young African children, told in A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, launched ESA seventh graders into an adventure in geography, history, and science. 

A Long Walk to Water follows the journey of Salva, a young Sudanese refugee who travels hundreds of miles through hostile territory to lead a group of boys to safety. Salva returns to southern Sudan and establishes a foundation to assist villages in need of clean water. His story is told alongside the story of Nya, a young girl who lives in one of the villages he helps. Life science teacher Christina Hidalgo and geography teachers Missy Gates and Susan Doré used the book to set the stage for an in-depth look at the geography of the region, water quality and scarcity, biodiversity, history and politics, and the human emotions of empathy and sympathy.  

The students read the book in their geography classes and traced Salva’s journey through saharas and savannahs, arid and semi-arid areas, and across the Nile River. In science class, they spent Fridays looking at the biome diversity of South Sudan, located in east-central Africa. The biome changes as Salva travels through the region, and each type of terrain presents a different set of challenges, from the threat of lions to scarcity of food and water. Divided into groups, the students researched the geography of the different spaces and presented about the biodiversity and the availability for nutrient cycling in the various areas. 

Back in geography, students examined the concept of water crises, researched the organizations and other entities that drill wells in Africa, and explored how the geology of the different areas affected the ability to obtain water. As the book explains, Nya’s village is in an arid area but has a deep aquifer. The teachers directed students to online sites such as waterproject.org to evaluate water usage. They looked at Nya’s daily usage and the amount of effort and time it took her to get water to her home, as well as the cleanliness of the water she could access. The sites allowed the students to track their families’ water usage based on washing clothing, driving, and showering, as well as how a family's diet impacts water usage (i.e., meat requires more water). 

In science, students used an app to track their individual daily water usage. They also completed a hands-on project that illustrated the challenges faced by families like Nya’s. Using small glasses to carry water and a ten-pound weight around the science building, the students tried to fill a bucket without losing water along the way. After losing at least 20% to spillage, they lost even more as they had to purify the dirty water to make it potable. As they worked, they examined physical water scarcity and the decisions that must be made on whether to spend what water they have for agriculture, industry, or personal uses. They also looked at economic water scarcity, where some people have an untapped supply of water but no resources to access it. Their explorations included discussions of the metabolic need for water, the challenges of constipation, cholera, diarrhea, and the importance of handwashing in the prevention of diseases. A video about the Tippy Tap, a device for hands-free handwashing in rural areas without running water, inspired one group to build a similar device to see how it works.  
 
Returning to geography, the book’s story introduced students to the history of political strife in the region. They discussed South Sudan’s declaration of independence in 2011, and the civil war, instability, and religious conflicts between Muslims, Christians, and Animists that continue to plague the region. Through discussions of cultural and political conflicts, combined with the challenges of geography, students raised questions that made it clear they were relating Salva’s and Nya’s struggles to their own lives. Reading about Nya’s struggles for clean water prompted questions about how the children in her village find the time to go to school when they have to spend so much time getting water, and led to conversations about empathy and sympathy, and what we do with those emotions. 

As a culmination of their study of Africa and the book, students created maps that include the physical features and terrain of the countries mentioned in the book (Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia). They also tracked Salva’s journey and marked the tragedies and main events that affected him and how the wildlife and terrain influenced his progress as he fled South Sudan in search of a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
 
As they prepare for the annual seventh grade Day of Service, students will continue their discussions of the geography of Africa and the science of scarcity. Before the service project, which includes volunteering at local organizations that provide food for the needy in Acadiana, the students will study the hungriest countries in the world and the metabolic impact of a diet lacking the nutrients necessary to thrive, as well as the biological challenges of providing food in parts of the world that aren’t hospitable to agriculture.
 

Episcopal School of Acadiana

Episcopal School of Acadiana is a private coeducational day school for students in grades PK3 through 12. Our mission is to instill in every student the habits of scholarship and honor.
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