It might have been a crisp and rainy spring day on the East End, but for Hampton Bays Middle School seventh-graders, a portion of last Thursday morning, May 22, was spent traversing the jungles of South Sudan and the plains of Ethiopia.
All of the district’s estimated 150 seventh-graders embarked on a walk that morning that was supposed to begin at the middle school and end at the Ponquogue Beach pavilion. The walk was part of an interdisciplinary field trip based on the book “A Long Walk to Water,” a New York Times best-seller authored by Linda Sue Park, that the entire seventh grade class read earlier this year.
Inclement weather cut the walking portion of the day’s events short, but the nearly 1.5 miles logged by the seventh-graders was meant to simulate the real-life experience of the book’s main character, a young South Sudanese man named Salva Dut, who, as a teenager, led 1,500 fellow refugees across hundreds of miles of desert during the Sudanese Civil War in 1985.
The event was organized by special education teacher Liz Lanni and physical education teacher Jeanne Polan, who together run the Let’s Move Club at the school. The club encourages students to take part in physical activity.
The purpose of the walk, Ms. Lanni explained, was to demonstrate what Mr. Dut went through to escape persecution, as well as what he and his fellow villagers had to do on a daily basis just to find drinking water. The walk was designed as a exercise for both their minds and bodies, she said.
The group of students, which included several teachers, made it to the Green Door Market Cafe on Shinnecock Road before the rain became to heavy to press on. From there they continued on to the beach via buses. The students then participated in other lessons from the book, including eating sugar cubes at the restaurant—something that Mr. Dut had to do during his travels—and being covered in tiny red stickers to represent the numerous bug bites suffered by the Sudanese refugees.
“It went well,” Ms. Lanni said. “We used the elements of the book and put them into application, like determination and tenacity and working through things that are unexpected, and that was the rain in our case.”
After returning from their morning excursion, students continued learning more about Mr. Dut, who came to the United States as a refugee in 1996, ultimately being adopted by a family in Rochester, New York, before going on to Monroe Community College to study international business. Mr. Dut used his newfound knowledge to found Water for South Sudan, a non-profit that specializes in drilling water wells in impoverished villages in the African nation, which won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.
Later last Thursday morning, once they were back at their middle school, students visited different stations set up around the gymnasium, learning about various topics, such as Sudanese culture, civil war, water filtration systems, aquifers, antibiotics and international politics.
“It made us think of and be more respectful of what we have,” 12-year-old Riley Tupper said.
“It shows us how hard it can be living in other places,” Rosalie Morais, 13, added. “We knew that before but this really backed that up.”
Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen said last week’s walk would also serve as the kick off to a fundraising drive to collect $5,000 to donate to Water for South Sudan. The Rochester-based charity intends to invest the money to construct a well in the east African country that would be dedicated in the name of Hampton Bays Middle School.
Because Mr. Dut also became a Rotarian during his time in the Unites States, the school also will partner with the Hampton Bays Rotary Club, Mr. Clemensen said. He currently serves as president of the local Rotary club.
“We wanted this to be more than just a one-time event,” Mr. Clemensen said. “We wanted this to be the kick off to something bigger.”