MOUNT PLEASANT — The moment of truth came the morning of May 16 when the students in fifth-grader Sasha Lewis's group screwed their plastic water filter onto a bottle of murky water and tipped it over.

They'd been working with students in Palestine to study water crises and collaborate on a water filter they each created with a 3-D printer on their respective sides of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

After trading notes via video messages and considering how much charcoal to pack into the filter, they tipped the bottle over an empty cup — and the water came out crystal clear.

"Who's gonna drink it?" one student asked, to a chorus of nervous laughter.

East Cooper Montessori Charter, a public school in Mount Pleasant, is the first school in South Carolina to partner with Level Up Village, an education company that has students around the globe collaborating on science, technology, engineering, arts and math projects.

"It's kind of like a modern-day pen pal, except we don't really want to say that because it's so much more than that," said Principal Jody Swanigan.

Swanigan said the program is a good fit for her school, and she's excited to see students connecting with their counterparts in Palestine, Ghana, Jordan and Nicaragua. 

"They're exchanging and looking at the faces of these kids over video, explaining these things, and it's just been so powerful," Swanigan said.

U.S. partner schools pay $55 tuition per student for in-school courses to Level Up Village, a for-profit education company that provides collaborative lessons and activities for classrooms around the globe. Under the company's "Take a Class, Give a Class" model, tuition also covers costs for students in partner countries.

In her "Water Crisis" project, Sasha Lewis learned a few things about computer design and 3-D printing. She learned how to build a workable water filter. But she also learned some basic facts about life in Palestine.

"We've learned that their water is not very clean, and they can run out of clean water and they'll only have dirty water," Sasha said. "Our crisis is just —"

"We have to use our water more responsibly," interjects her classmate, Calvin Volkmann. "Like Flint, Michigan, we're using bad sources of water, too."

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.

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