America's Water Education: Reflections of a NYC girl

Editor's note:

For the fourth entry of our blog series, Mrs Alesha Smith, middle school instructor of literacy at the Eagle Academies for the Young Men of Harlem, brings forth her enduring questions on water resources. Stemming from a genuine curiosity that she masterfully conveyed to her students, they provide nothing short of a comprehensive research agenda for water management.

This work has been produced within the context of our NSF grant on the innovative use of water data platforms at the middle and high school level. The reflections of participating instructors and researchers are collected in a series of blog entries on our project dedicated website.

Alesha Smith
June 22, 2023

“The earth is mostly made up of water” or “the earth is over 70% water” were phrases that I heard repeatedly throughout primary and secondary school during various classes. There would also be large world maps in different classrooms where every so often an educator would be sure to bring all students attention to the fact that the image (taken from a satellite) shows just how water rich the earth is (indicated by the vastness of varying colors of blue). 

Though I found the fact interesting that Earth was mostly water, I could not understand how that fact connected to my life, other than me residing on the planet Earth. I didn’t live near a beach or any natural bodies of water. I lived in the concrete jungle, also known as New York. In fact, the only time I really gave Earth’s water supply a second thought was when I watched a sci-fi movie where aliens were coming to Earth to try to steal our water.  

Now as an adult, still residing in the concrete jungle, but intentionally expanding my understanding of the world by intentionally navigating different places and spaces, I begin to see the impact of water (or lack thereof) on the everyday life of humans around the world. The enduring questions for me regarding Earth's water supply are as follows: 

  1. With all of the billionaires and advanced technology that humans have been able to create since our existence on this planet, why is it that there is still a disparity in access to “clean” healthy water around the world? 
  2. Since this is a world issue, why haven’t all governments collaborated in some way to ensure that funds have been allocated for research and development to ensure sustainability for future generations?
  3. What are the foreseeable ramifications for the planet’s water supply at the current rate of pollution?
  4. Are the current efforts to “clean up” the water supply on the planet having any persistent long term positive effects?
  5. Why do we continually pay for bottled water and/or be forced to pay for running water in private homes? Does that mean that the water is “safe” or “safer” because we pay for it?
  6. At what age do scientists advise we begin to truly educate our students, not only on the percentage of water on the planet, but also how it truly impacts their immediate world and their future?