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Students at some schools may say crowning the queen and king candidates is the most important part of homecoming. Others might say the football game or dance are its biggest draw. But not at Orcutt Academy.

At Orcutt Academy, it's clean water.

Over a two-week period beginning Monday, Oct. 1, Orcutt Academy's roughly 600 students raised more than a thousand dollars — $1,044.55 to be exact — for Gravity Water, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that works to provide clean drinking water to rural communities in Nepal, Vietnam and Puerto Rico.

"We have a pretty involved student body," said U.S. History teacher Leigh Stephenson, who serves as the school's Associated Student Body director, "but there hasn't been a globally focused event [on campus.] I'm blown away by the success."

Stephenson said students began raising funds for Gravity Water after Arroyo Grande native Tyler Hubbell, the organization's assistant director, spoke about the work they do overseas. Senior Karina Sanchez credits Hubbell's passion and enthusiasm for inspiring a larger, more important goal for the student body to work toward.

"It really gave homecoming an ulterior motive," she said. "A lot of the times homecoming is about the court or the football game. We thought it would be a good idea to take the energy and put it toward something that could help other people."

Throughout the two-week fundraising period, students collected money using jars placed in individual teachers' classrooms. Some brought empty plastic or aluminum cans and bottles as part of a schoolwide recycling drive. During Friday's pep rally, students opened their wallets and dug into their pockets for loose change to see which class could raise the most money in 60 seconds.

As an added incentive, students were promised that the three teachers with jars that collected the most money would take a pie to the face.

"Obviously throughout the two weeks we would let them know it was for a bigger cause," explained junior Hayley Parker, "but to get people motivated we told them that they'd be able to pie a teacher in the face."

Students added $69.43 to a jar in economics and government teacher Gregory Verch's class. The can held by athletic director and health/physical education teacher Chad McKenzie collected $84.30. Ty Fredriks, geology teacher and adviser of the campus' robotics team, took in the most: $136.69.

All three obliged and took a whipped cream pie to the face.

The group plans to approach local Orcutt businesses in the coming week to continue raising funds toward their $1,500-dollar goal. Individuals interested in supporting the group's fundraising efforts can contact the school at 805-938-8550. Cash donations can be brought directly to the campus and checks (from both individuals and businesses) should be made out to Gravity Water. 

"It's not super hard to do this at all, and it can make such a big difference," sophomore Zaley Bennett said. "Compared to the big picture, it's not that much money for [the amount] of a difference it's making."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.