Grade 6 Students Present Capstone Water Projects

Water, famously, is everywhere—and so, too, are issues that threaten freshwater sources around the globe. Throughout the year, Grade 6 students have studied humanities through the lens of water, and last week, the students gathered in Benson Gymnasium to present their culminating projects. Each student had chosen a body of freshwater somewhere in the world and spent the final weeks of the year delving deeply into the ways that water is affected by a range of environmental, economic, and social factors.

The projects, shared with parents, caregivers, and professional-community members, spanned the globe. Students looked at rivers ranging from the Ohio to the Yangtze, from the Po to the Congo. The world’s lakes—Balaton, Erie, Tahoe, Chad, Huron, Victoria, and more—were also widely represented. Each project must meet certain parameters: “Students gather information from reliable sources and create slides to display on a trifold,” explained Grade 6 humanities teacher Sarah Cohen. “They also produce a written statement and design an activity to check for understanding and engage their audience.” 

The project, Cohen continued, focuses on environmental challenges. Those challenges can seem daunting even to experts—so, said Cohen, “To strike a balance between concern and hope, we dedicate significant time to learning how individuals and organizations work together to address these issues and safeguard our water bodies.”

Tuesday morning, Benson was abuzz with talk about petitions and pollution, recycling and raising awareness. Visitors circulated around the room, peppering students with questions about their projects; the students seemed prepared for any and all queries. 

Matthew Wang’s project described the impact of gold mining along the Amazon. John Bower, head of the Middle School, stopped by to hear about the details and wondered what we can do to help the cause. “We can learn more,” said Wang. “Our whole world is interconnected, and what we do impacts the lives of others.”

Paige Lyons had studied chemical pollution in Lake Lugano. Few of the many tourists who visit the scenic region, she said, realize that the lake suffers from chemical pollution and isn’t considered safe for swimming. Lyons, like Wang, advocated for raising awareness, as well as pivoting away from chemical fertilizers. Even simpler, she advised the most basic step of all: “People should just clean up after themselves.”

The year-long World and Water curriculum covers a lot of ground, as it were, and while the final project takes many of the students to places far from Massachusetts, they also have the opportunity to study issues closer to home. A few weeks before the presentation, they participated in the annual Water Walk, which has evolved in recent years away from a focus on global water scarcity to “educating our community about freshwater issues and usage, appreciating all that freshwater provides, and considering our responsibility to care for the water bodies around us,” said Cohen. Various stations set up around campus helped send the message through activities, games, and demonstrations.

Students also participated in a Charles River Cleanup field study in the spring and hosted a guest speaker from LightHawk, a nonprofit organization that connects pilots with conservationist efforts around the United States. 

Ultimately, although the issues connected to the world’s water supply may be challenging, students finish the year with a sense of agency and hope. “They consider and discuss how one person’s actions can change the world for many and continuously draw connections to this essential course question,” said Cohen. “Not only does it protect our sixth graders’ sense of hope, it also stretches them to wonder about collaboration and their immense potential to positively impact our world.”
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