According to the United Nations World Water Day project, over a billion people around the world live without access to clean drinking water. For many of these people, over 20% of their day is spent searching for and transporting water back to their families. In honor of this project and to create more awareness for students in the United States, Joan Roehre has teamed up with Adventure Kids Learning (which Roehre co-founded in 2008 along with two other Kenosha, WI water utility employees) to lead a team to the remote village of Pujujalito, Guatemala. AKL was piloted in 2009 to 15 fourth grade classrooms and has grown every year since then. It has since been opened to grades three and up due to varying standards across states.
A former Wisconsin educator, now turned mobile learning expert, Roehre has a passion for equipping those in need with access to clean water. She also believes students can make a difference. But first they need to see the problem for themselves. They need to visit the villages, talk with young people, and see how daily life around the world is impacted by a lack of healthy water. And they can—from their very own classroom.
This year, Roehre partnered with My Big Campus, the learning management system (LMS) from Lightspeed Systems, to bring teachers and students across the United States into the village of Pujujalito. Roehre has made this trip several times before but never had the benefit of connecting back to students in the States with a safe collaborative platform. Through live, interactive videos, students were able to visit the Pujujalito school, watch construction of the 2,500 gallon water tank, and take a glimpse inside a traditional village home. With the help of translators, classrooms connected with Guatemalan children who talked about how the new water system will greatly affect their life. Students met the construction workers and asked about details of the large project. They saw Guatemalan women craft the ancient Mayan art of back-strap looming. And, all of this from the technology in their classrooms.
Students of Lance Middle School in Kenosha, WI, connect with students in Guatemala via live interactive video
“I am always in awe of the questions students come up with, on BOTH sides of the exchange, as well as the many "aha" moments that occur," said Roehre. "We hear 30 US students gasping upon hearing children their age spend 2-4 hours a day getting water for their families. All we do is turn on a faucet. We see Guatemalan kids cheer hearing kids in the US love soccer. Different and yet alike."
In addition to video, teachers and students took to the World Water Day Group on My Big Campus to discuss the project, share photos, ask questions, and provide enthusiastic feedback. In total, 30 classrooms took part in these virtual field trips to Guatemala. Many classes took an active project-based learning approach to this experience. Some participating classes adopted their own streams. A teacher went five days only using water he could carry. And a third grade class used this to study the effects on their local agriculture and drought.
Roehre is a passionate advocate for this program. “The primary task of the whole team is to build a water distribution system for a village. The educational aspect, AKL, has become a primary focus as it emphasizes global citizenship,” she said. “The cultural exchange is invaluable to all involved. Of course we do highlight water and how we all get it; however, we've learned over the years that students are hungry for cultural sharing."
“It's visibly moving to hear US children often say- "How can WE help them?" or one sixth grade US student this year stepped up to the camera and said, "I don't have a question, but I want you to know that if I could send you water to make your lives easier, I would.”