Dressed in Greek helmets, tie-dye, togas and other forms of team gear, seventh-graders paraded from the Chagrin Falls Middle School to the Chagrin Valley Recreation Center last week.

Student Maggie Koehler, Special education aide Greta Insolia and an orange stuffed tiger proudly placed in a ceremonial cardboard boat led the parade on May 28 as they made their way to the recreation center. Teams of students carried their boats, some above their heads chanting “Ooga-chaka, ooga-chaka,” while others waved their team flags and held up their banners shouting, “Left! Left! Left, right, left!”

Brian Johnson, math teacher and intervention specialist, channeled the spirit of the Skipper in white boating shorts, a blue collared shirt and a yacht captain’s hat. As the event organizer, Mr. Johnson gave opening remarks to thank the sponsors, community and the students for their efforts that made the event happen before beginning the opening ceremony.

Students lowered the stuffed tiger into the water, protected only by the very cardboard and duct tape that survived last year’s first regatta. With the help of Maggie and Ms. Insolia, the tiger sailed across the pool, marking the beginning of the 2nd Annual Cardboard Rec Regatta.

First up in the regatta were teams Los Lobos Marinos and FDA Approved.

Two boaters, Elizabeth Partain and Katelyn Evans, made up the team Los Lobos Marinos, along with members Clara Ives, Michael Wloszek and Jason Cheng. FDA Approved’s boaters were Oliver Tepper and Sven Nielsen, along with team members Libby Cain, Kelly Meador and Elena Goodwin.

On the mark of math teacher Geoff Brown, Los Lobos Marinos and FDA Approved paddled off. Their mission: be the fastest boat to make it to the other end of the 100-foot pool, touch the pool wall with their boats and make it back to the start without sinking.

Both teams were off to a great start and remained neck and neck with each other until Los Lobos Marinos lost their balance halfway across and flipped bottom up into the cold morning water. Their life jackets proved to be reliable as the two boaters popped back up from under their boat.

FDA Approved paddled on, but just missed the pool wall as they turned around and started their journey back. After paddling back to touch the wall, the boaters made their voyage to win the heat, but not without a major blow to their recorded time.

Striving to be the fastest, the remaining 28 teams followed suit, but the regatta was about more than winning a race and being the fastest boat on the water.

In Mr. Johnson’s opening remarks, he not only gave thanks for the efforts in the project, but for the public’s support in helping the class of seventh-graders raise money that would build a water well for a village in need in South Sudan.

The regatta was the conclusion of more than a month of the seventh-graders’ hard work in an interdisciplinary STEM project – involving math, science, language arts, social studies and even art – that raised more than $15,000 for Water for South Sudan, a nonprofit organization that provides clean water and hygiene education to villages of the North African country.

Water for South Sudan drills water wells for villages in need, and one well costs $15,000, Mr. Johnson explained. He added that as part of the students’ “entry-fee” for the regatta – much like one would need for a charity run – each team needed to raise at least $175 as part of the project, which would get the students a third of the way to having a well under their name for a village. It was then up to the seventh-grade teams to do “the footwork” in gaining support to reach their $15,000 goal through their team CrowdRise pages.

The seventh-grade regatta project started off last year after Ann Gasser of the recreation center emailed the idea to another teacher. Before Ms. Gasser introduced using the center for the race, Mr. Johnson said the school did not have a big interdisciplinary project in mind for the seventh-graders last year.

“She emailed somebody at the [Chagrin Falls] Intermediate School and then [the teacher] sent it over to our science teacher Cindy Dean,” Mr. Johnson explained. “We decided, ‘Well, this sounds pretty cool. Let’s go ahead and try the cardboard regatta.’ And we did, and it just took off.”

At the same time, Mr. Johnson explained that the seventh-graders were reading the book “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park in their language arts class. The book tells the stories of a Sudanese girl who must walk two hours twice a day for water and a boy suffering from thirst and hunger in the midst of a civil war.

Mr. Johnson said it was English teacher Jessica Johnson’s idea to add the fundraiser to the boat-building project, adding philanthropy to the interdisciplinary project.

The students used aspects of STEM through the geometric netting of creating their boat design, utilizing decision matrices and learning the science of buoyancy and how to apply it to their boats using cardboard and duct tape, Mr. Johnson explained. He added that the project incorporated social studies as students learned the history of boats and boat designs and language arts by writing persuasive essays on how the students would encourage people to donate to their CrowdRise pages. He added that people can still donate to the pages even after the event at tinyurl.com/CFMSwater2019.

As part of the project, Mr. Johnson said the students learned hands-on communications skills by making 45-second commercials for each teams’ CrowdRise page which they could show people when raising money for the water well. Students were also able to raise money through a spirit shop started by parent Tracy Castelluccio that sold T-shirts for the regatta. All profits went toward Water for South Sudan.

“We added art this year,” Mr. Johnson said. “Last year [the students] made flags where they just had to draw them and put them on construction paper. This year we used Google Drawings.” He added that the teams’ flags and names had to be based off of something the students learned throughout the year. This year’s names included the Banana Bunch for nutrition, Argonauts from Greek mythology and Positive Protons for science among many others.

This year’s project also included four guest speakers.

“I was able to use my magic of Facebook and Twitter and I got [the City of] Cleveland [Division of]Water to come in and talk about water distribution, like how water is involved and how we keep our water clean,” Mr. Johnson said. “Northeast Ohio [Regional] Sewer District came in and kind of did the same thing, talked about the filtering of water, why it’s important to keep our rivers clean.” He added that the local nonprofit Drink Local, Drink Tap spoke to the students about the wells they provide in Uganda and a student’s parent, Craig Peck, was able to come in and speak to the seventh-graders about boat designs and buoyancy.

The Education Foundation was a big supporter for the regatta by donating almost $1,000 for the first year and doing the same this year to help cover costs of the duct tape and assuring a life guard would be present for the event.

This support was fully funded by the student board, which is made up of 40 high school students, said Jen Cimperman, president of the foundation. She added that the foundation chose this event to fund through the grant because of its innovation.

“This certainly is very innovative,” she said. “It’s interdisciplinary. It includes so many facets of their curriculum here; everything from art to STEM, math, language arts. It’s innovative and phenomenal, highly engaging for the students.

“You could touch the lives of people in Sudan. You can make a difference,” Ms. Cimperman said. “I think that’s an important component of this, and our student board sees that.”

Mr. Johnson said that while the boating aspect of the event is awesome, “just seeing [the students] be motivated to go out there and raise money for something globally that’s impacting people that are less fortunate than them” is where the real importance was in the project.

Moving forward, Mr. Johnson expressed that he would like the event to become even bigger. “I want the community to come and look forward to it every single year. That’s my goal,” he said. “And I want the kids to have fun. I want it to be something they look forward to [going into] the seventh grade.”

Having met their $15,000 goal, the students were able to enjoy a day of racing in the pool. While the results of the race didn’t impact their grades on the project, awards and prizes for the fastest boat down and back and the most dramatic sink – tastefully named the Titanic Award – were on students’ minds.

Katie of Los Lobos Marinos said she was nervous to be one of the first teams to go off in the regatta, but eager to get in the pool. Elizabeth said she was “excited” to get out and win. While winning was not the case for the sea lions, they both agreed that, “We did amazing!”

FDA Approved’s Oliver and Sven were both confident they would win their heat.

“We’re feeling very great, confident we’re going to win this,” Sven had said before the race.

“We’re GOAT,” Oliver said, meaning their team would be the “greatest of all time.” He added that if they did not win the award, he hoped they could win the Titanic Award.

The award for fastest boat down and back, however, would go to Aye Aye Platipi for a time of 1:08, and the Titanic Award went to the Banana Bunch for the dramatic sinking of their twin-hulled boat.

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