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North Hudson students walking for water

Jennifer Schwalbach’s fifth-grade class walked for water June 1. Pictured front row Chris Woehrmann, Lonny Feia, Carter Nasvik, Aaron Sparling, Izzy Bakken, Nathan Prestrud, Bella Sullivan and Bella Perkins; back row Jadon Thompson, Jacob Schmid, James Magnuson, Landon Ludeman, Gannon Blaiser, Aiden Tepper-Engh, Alex Halama, Graham Close, Reece Packard, Adella Young, Eli Olson, Riley Sommers, Drew Henson-Hoesley (obstructed), Addy Wettleson and Isabelle Aza. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Schwalbach.

As Jennifer Schwalbach's fifth-grade students learned more about water systems, and ecosystems this year, they also learned that access to clean water is an issue in some parts of the world. Schwalbach said this bothered the students a lot.

"I said, 'Well, you know you could do something about it."

That is just what her students have done.

The kids planned a "Walk for Water" held June 1, starting and ending at North Hudson Elementary.

"We're just doing what we can to help out," said 11-year-old Graham Close.

The students' aimed to each carry one gallon jug in each hand to the river and back to the school, then take a few laps around the school.

"Somebody just had the idea to try to experience what the people there feel like, having to do it every single day, walking like 3-6 miles with a bunch of water," Schwalbach said.

Close said the class had permission to use a specific water access point to fill the jugs, before carrying them back to school.

The students were sponsored for each mile they walked with the milk jugs.

The money will be split evenly between the non-profit organizations Charity Water and Water First International, both of which create wells for people in need of easier access to clean water.

The students researched many such organizations, but Close said, settled on Charity Water and Water first. The students evaluated based on sustainability of the wells created, if the charities were appropriate to use for school, and how efficiently the money was used.

Close said Charity Water, the larger of the two charities, is also the older of the two. He said around 23,000 people have gotten access to clean water through Charity Water, and the organization has done more than 2,000 wells.

"The real reason we chose them is because they actually put flow sensors in their wells," Close said. "Somebody was doing research about it and they found that...a lot of the wells failed after the first year, or sooner, so we decided to find something that might last a long time."

He said Charity Water's sensors ensure that the water stays flowing, and stays clean.

Water First is a smaller organization, but according to its website, none of its wells have ever failed.

"Those were the two we narrowed it down to, and so we couldn't decide which one to do, so we decided to split the money even between them," Close said.

Schwalbach said her students decided to hold the Walk for Water about a month ago.

Close said arranging it took a lot of work, mostly done in school.

"We've missed a lot of classes trying to figure this out," he said.

The students also sold water bottles—which the kids made sure were BPA free-- to their fellow students to raise money for their chosen charities. The water bottles alone brought in about $300. The Walk for Water brought in a total of $1,272.

Money isn't the only thing Schwalbach's class wanted to raise.

"Because Miss Schwalbach told us that when she was telling some of her colleagues...they didn't even know this was an issue," Close said. "So a lot of this is just spreading awareness."

Schwalbach is proud of her students.

"They really have taken the reigns and kind of taken off with what started with an idea, and just grew," she said.

The students did a lot of research, Schwalbach said, and brought up several points she hadn't thought of researching, such as well failures. Students also made sure they found a supplier that offered reasonably-priced BPA-free water bottles for their water bottle sale.

"They were really thoughtful and thorough, in a relatively short period of time," Schwalbach said.

As a teacher, it's great to see her students take their idea, and "take off with it."

"Just to see them feel strongly about something, strongly enough to do something, was pretty awesome," she said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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