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South Valley Riverton Journal

Riverton Elementary sixth graders successfully propose water dispensers for portable classrooms

Jun 06, 2023 08:48AM ● By Morgan Olsen

Mr. Howell’s sixth grade class put on a play they wrote to advocate for water dispensers in portable classrooms. (William Howell/Riverton Elementary)

One hot day in August, Will Howell was teaching his sixth graders in the portable classroom at Riverton Elementary when student after student continuously interrupted the lesson asking to go fill up their water bottle. 

“I was thinking about how this is a problem and how we need to do something about this,” Howell said. “I thought maybe we could do a presentation to the principal to try and get water dispensers of some sort out in the portable classrooms. It was a perfect fit for our narrative writing unit and the students were really excited about it.”

The sixth graders set out to write a play, a song and prepare a PowerPoint presentation with graphs and data making their case for water dispensers to be installed in the portable classrooms.

“I kept them on track as we wrote a play, cast students for different roles, painted posters for props and chose costumes for students to wear for the performance,” Howell said. “For the PowerPoint we had students do research on schools and water and similar issues in other schools. I also timed them on how long it took to go into the school, fill up their water bottle and come back in. We made graphs depicting the size of the water bottle and how long it took them to fill up their water bottle. A group of students made up lyrics and a song summarizing the entire issue, as well.”

The students then performed their play and presented their data to the principal, the assistant principal, a member of the school district board and the PTA President. At the conclusion of the presentation, students were prepared to answer any questions the board members had about their proposal. 

“The plot of the play basically consisted of a student who fainted from not being able to get a drink of water one day,” Howell said. “While he fainted, he went on a magical journey to find people who could give him water. The last person he found was Principal Pullan and then he woke up from his dream.”

The students were successful in their goal of getting water dispensers installed in the portable classrooms and the invited guests was impressed with their hard work and attention to the problem.

“It was a great experience,” Principal Joel Pullan said. “I had no idea all of this was going on behind the scenes. I just knew I had been invited out to a play and it was important that I be there. It was fun to walk in and not only enjoy all the hard work that the kids had put in, but also enjoy their creative talents and collective abilities to pull off a fantastic performance. They provided me with the data, complete with bar graphs, to help me better understand the process and need and how much learning time was being wasted with students going into the school to fill up the water bottles.”

Howell’s sixth graders began this project in August, performed their play and presented their data at the end of September, and the water dispensers were purchased by the PTA and installed just a few weeks later. Not only did these students help solve a growing problem, they accomplished many Utah state core standards in the process.

“One of the things that impressed me is that the kids had gone through the core standards that they were learning throughout this time and had identified specifically which standards in the Utah state core they had worked on while doing this project,” Pullan said. “The project, over the course of a month, touching on so many different standards is impressive on its own, but also with this kind of a creative pursuit, is something those students will never forget.”

Howell is proud of his students and the things they learned throughout working on this month-long project. 

“One thing they learned was that writing can be fun,” Howell said. “Writing doesn’t always have to be boring. They also learned to advocate for themselves in an appropriate manner, and they gained confidence from this. They were able to practice and work so hard to present to so many teachers on the side for rehearsals and they felt so confident in how hard they worked and how passionate they were about the issue.”

Howell is confident that the things his students learned while working on this project will stay with them throughout the rest of their lives.

“I think it will give them confidence and the know-how of how to go about things properly,” Howell said. “If you want something, go to the source and prepare, plan and work hard, and get your resources together and present your idea. It also taught them how to work well together even if they don’t get along. In real life you’re not going to be able to work with your best friend. You’re going to have to learn to work with different types of people.”

Pullan was also inspired by the things these students learned as they put their efforts into this project.

“Watching Mr. Howell working with the kids and seeing how, under his direction, he was creatively empowering the kids to affect change, impressed me,” he said. “There’s a lot of incivility in communication now and he created and demonstrated with the kids that you can get things done in creative and appropriate ways and advocate for what you need and what’s important and still be very civil in the process. That had a tremendous impact on me. It’s not just about putting the message out there. It’s about putting the message out there in the way you would like to see change happen.”

The students were each excited to be involved and there was something for each person to take charge of during the project.

“Everyone did something in this play,” Howell said. “Everyone wanted to be part of this because it was their project and their contribution. They wanted it so much. They knew it would help change our time in the portables and help future classes as well.”

Pullan was honored to be part of such a great project and looks forward to seeing what these sixth graders will accomplish in their future endeavors.

“The learning that comes with the project becomes deep learning,” he said. “It’s no longer superficial because it had a real-life application. It had a direct impact on them. These are standards and understandings that will never be forgotten. It was a great project and I was thrilled to be a part of it.”