Sixth-grader Michelle Kwan admits that before studying about water purification systems in a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math class at Glen Crest Middle School in Glen Ellyn, she had no interest in the subject.
She's now one of the 28 students in the class collecting donations from family and friends for The Water Project, an organization that works with local partners in Third World communities to drill fresh water wells.
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"This interests me, how precious our water system is," Michelle said. "We're going to try to get enough money (for) a well."
Science teacher Darin Roddick-Small said the well would be located where it is most needed, in Africa.
"Each well costs about $2,000," he said. "We put as a goal $3,000 so there would be plenty to cover the well."
Roddick-Small, who teaches the STEM class with math instructor Jennifer Rodriguez, said during the project the students have learned about waterborne diseases and water pollution issues, built miniature water purification systems and found out how water plants run. Along the way, they've incorporated principles of earth science, physics, chemistry and math.
"We were looking for something that would pull them all together and make them come to life," said Rodriguez, who introduced the students to The Water Project early in the school year with a video.
In designing water purification systems, the students used two-liter bottles and a combination of materials such as charcoal, gravel, sand and coffee filters to clean the water. They then tested the pH levels of the water.
"Before we started, I never thought I'd be able to make a filter," said sixth-grader Kevin Enright, admitting that his use of a coffee filter and charcoal did only a so-so job of purifying the water.
Raddick-Small said the students tried a variety of materials to filter the water.
"Everybody had something a little different," he said. "Some of them were very elaborate."
The students also designed water plants. Most submitted computer designs, but Wesley Jedlicka built a model plant of cardboard. He said he learned "how much work and how big water purification plants are.
"Usually people take their clean water for granted, but there are a lot of people who don't have it," he said.
According to The Water Project website, more than one in eight people in the world don't have access to clean water. Nearly one in five deaths of children younger than 5 are due to water-related diseases. Children, especially girls, often have to walk long distances to fetch water that is contaminated.
In addition to working with community organizations in Third World countries to drill wells, The Water Project provides sanitation and hygiene training and helps in the construction of other sustainable water projects.
Roddick-Small said the school had long wanted to get a class started that integrated science, math, engineering and technology, and that the students were specifically chosen for it.
"It's not an easy class to get into," he said.
With the water project wrapping up this month after the donations are collected, the students will turn their attention to bridge-building for the rest of the year, Roddick-Small said.
"We're going to build toothpick bridges," he said.
Anyone wishing to add to the class collection for The Water Project may contact thewaterproject.org/community/profile/glen-school.