Southold students to plunge into the Peconic in the name of clean water

03/21/2015 8:00 AM |
Seventh grade students Amanda Bardsley and Elizabeth Jernick (right) hold up a cold plunge t-shirt as English teacher Emilia Dakis watches on. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Seventh grade students Amanda Bardsley and Elizabeth Jernick (right) hold up a cold plunge T-shirt as English teacher Emilia Dakis looks on. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

This is no homework assignment.

In fact, it’s something seventh graders at Southold Junior High School students have taken upon themselves to help a good cause — not to get a good grade. 

Next Saturday, the seventh grade class is planning to jump into chilly Peconic Bay for a “cold plunge” as part of its ongoing effort to raise money to bring safe, clean drinking water to people in developing countries.

Students of Southold teacher Emilia Dakis’ seventh grade English class were inspired to raise money for the cause in December when they finished reading Linda Sue Park’s novel “A Long Walk to Water.”

The fiction book chronicles the story of Salva Dut, a Sudanese “Lost Boy” (and a real person who’s still alive today) and Nya, a village girl from war-torn Sudan, as they struggle to survive. The class read about the young characters having to travel miles through hot fields, prickly bushes and hordes of mosquitoes to gain access to water that wasn’t clean — and it struck a chord, the students said.

“It is not a completely fictional story,” said 12-year-old Amanda Bardsley. “People in the world really don’t have clean water. [I connected with the book] because when I read it, both Salva and I were 11 years old. He was a real person with real problems. We wanted to help.”

To do so, they followed in the footsteps of Salva himself.

After fleeing his homeland and coming to the U.S., Salva founded a nonprofit group called Charity: Water that helps fund thousands of water projects across the world. The organization also allows individual groups to create online campaigns to help raise money toward clean water efforts in developing nations. In January, the Southold students launched their own unique campaign seeking to raise $1,500 for Kenya, the location of Salva’s refugee camp in the novel. As a part of the campaign the students decided to do what they call a “cold plunge” on Saturday, March 28.

“We are raising money for clean water, so, we figured why not jump into the water?” said 12-year-old Elizabeth Jernick.

Each student participating is donating $5 to the cause. They are also holding a bake sale selling cookies, brownies and other treats.

While the plunge may be the splashiest part of the campaign, the students have worked for months on the project after finishing the novel, Ms. Dakis said.

They have addressed letters to local businesses for support and developed a public relations campaign for the plunge, which included T-shirts bearing the slogan “Be Bold and Go Cold.”

With contributions from students, parents, school faculty and local shops, the class raised more than $900, both online and otherwise, two weeks prior to the plunge, Ms. Dakis said.

“One of the coolest things for me is the students came up with these ideas on their own,” Ms. Dakis said. “They have written press releases and letters … it makes it an English lesson, too.”

If the group surpasses its $1,500 goal, the students said they would donate the remainder of the proceeds to Group for the East End to fund environmental projects closer to home.

“We want to help the people in Africa, but we also want to help our local groups,” Elizabeth said.

Cold plunge is scheduled for noon at Founder’s Landing in Southold. T-shirts will also be available for purchase.

Contributions to the students’ campaign can be made online by visiting here.

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