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Johnson High School students raise funds for well in Sierra Leone
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Megan Middleton, a social studies and world area teacher, and Kimberley Boyd, a JISA and IB coordinator, cut cake for freshmen JISA students Friday. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Thanks to small sacrifices made by Johnson High School students, 275 people in Sierra Leone have more access to drinking water.

Students in the Johnson International Scholars Academy at the high school recently participated in a project organized by their world area studies teacher Megan Middleton. The project raised $1,300 to help rebuild a well in Sierra Leone, a nation in western Africa.

Middleton said the first unit of the world area studies course focuses on Africa and is titled “the power of one.”

“I try to find ways that they as one student or one group of students can make a difference,” Middleton said. “So for the project ... they pledged to give up everything except tap water for two weeks. So all the money they would usually spend on sodas, energy drinks, coffees or sweet tea when they go out to dinner with their family, instead they just set that money aside to donate to the project.”

The program has 98 students. Though not all took part, an average donation of $25 per student was collected.

Participating students signed a pledge card and received a bracelet to serve as a reminder of their commitment. Middleton said even if a student didn’t participate for the full two weeks, many would turn in a dollar and say, “I want to donate today instead of buying a drink.”

“For this particular project, the money went to Sierra Leone,” Middleton said. “A group of ex-child soldiers who were victims in the civil war that happened there several years ago have been going around rebuilding wells in different communities and helping locals rebuild and get their lives back on track.”

Students in the Johnson International Scholars Academy celebrated the accomplishment at lunch Friday when Middleton and the academy coordinator served cake and offered a presentation about the project.

The academy is a pre-International Baccalaureate program that students can apply for at Johnson High. It allows students who plan to take IB or AP classes to take special honors courses during their freshman and sophomore years.

World area studies is a social studies elective available to students in the program.

“In our first unit on Africa, we focused on water scarcity because it’s a major issue in Africa, but it’s also something they can relate to and connect to because everyone needs water,” Middleton said. “It’s also something that hits home in many ways, and it’s something they’re familiar with because of Lake Lanier and different issues here.”

The purpose of the class is not only to teach students about issues throughout the world, but to show the connected nature of the world, something water scarcity exemplifies.

Last year was the first in which Middleton led Johnson students in the project, and she said it improved this year. She hopes to continue to do the project, but will always choose something relevant to the students and issues in the world they should understand.

“The students were really interested in the idea that they could make a difference by something so small, which was important,” she said. “It wasn’t as though they had to find money. It was just changing their lifestyle for two weeks and using money they would have spent anyway in another way.”

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