I have received several inquiries: How can we engage students—elementary through university—in meaningful service learning related to the lead poisoning of water in Flint, Michigan? Let’s do this! Remember, in the service learning cycle, before we can take action, we must investigate and prepare.
Get informed as educators and share information with students. There are many articles to be read and more to come. Recent stories include:
- Nicholas Kristof, in his New York Times article “America Is Flint,” explains how we must do more as a government and as individuals.
- The January issue of Time Magazine has a front page story, “The Poisoning of an American City.” (Subscription required.) Depending on the age of your students, share this article, other articles in this issue, or segments of articles.
- Time for Kids features the article, A Water Crisis Deepens.”
Once informed about the topic, check with the water district in your community. Who can students interview to learn about lead levels in local water and any precautions taken over the years? What is the water source for your community? Who would you interview from a local university or college? Identify and interview journalists who are reporting on the Flint situation in local or regional media to find out how they conduct their research.
Take a Virtual Trip to Northeastern Oklahoma
Before the Flint news broke, northeastern Oklahoma was already embroiled in lead poisoning of a most serious manner. L.E.A.D. Agency has been the foremost organization rallying the community, holding an annual conference, and engaging with the CDC, EPA, Oklahoma’s governor, Harvard University, and others for decades to correct the lead poisoning in Tar Creek and its impact. Visit their website and read the January 24, 2016, blog to get a better sense of how it’s not just about Flint. Really. Between Kristof’s article and the work in northeastern Oklahoma, you can see that this terrible situation needs to be stopped across the United States.
Who Else Is Helping?
Dig in to find out what groups already exist in your community or region that are making inroads on the topic of water safety and lead paint. Find out what they are doing and how you can bolster their good work. Often, the websites of excellent groups do not have resources for kids or teens, and that’s another idea for action—creating online content that informs kids and teens for a local, regional, or national organization.
Look for Action That Is Preventative
Other cities are taking note that we can’t wait for “another Flint,” though as noted in Kristof’s article (and as seen with the Tar Creek situation), this situation is not isolated. Read what one New Jersey city is doing here.
Turn Ideas into Action
The L.E.A.D. Agency blog begins to lay out some specific ideas: “Prevention also means dealing safely with the countless homes and out buildings with deteriorated lead based paint, reminding our local officials to consider replacing old lead pipes still in use, and having our children screened for lead. It means eating healthy foods high in calcium that can protect us from lead poisoning and changing the way we deal with household dust, wet is always best, just as taking your shoes off at the door, also helps limit the amount you bring inside. It is simple, but prevention works. We know, we [in northeast Oklahoma] have lowered the lead levels of our children, but we have to keep doing it for the next batch of precious children coming along.”
As you investigate and learn, be on the lookout for ways action can occur—directly and indirectly. And remember to write to local and federal officials to insist upon the legislation to make prevention a standard practice rather than having to clean up mess after mess. Our collective voices matter. What is already being done to help?
- In Chicago, elementary kids are collecting water.
- CNN gives ways to assist.
- Buffalo State lends a hand.
- The University of Michigan is conducting research.
Be Water Savvy
Learn about water in your own community. EarthEcho International has some exceptional resources including seven Action Guides available for free on their website. Go to EarthEcho International, click on “Educator Resources,” filter by Action Guides, and register for free. Look for the Action Guides “Know Your Flow” and “Down the Drain”—both especially relevant for this topic.
Water = Life
We must preserve this fragile resource. At risk in Flint and elsewhere are often the most vulnerable populations—children and elders. So learn all you can. Discuss with others. Find experts and partners. Generate ideas, and then take action!
I’d love to see what you and your students do. Document your project and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can!
Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is an international service learning and education consultant and a former classroom teacher. She presents at conferences around the world and works with state departments of education, university faculty and students, school districts, and classroom teachers on a variety of education issues such as service learning, civic responsibility, student leadership, and respectful school communities. For more about Cathryn and her global offering of workshops and presentations at conferences and schools or her Summer Service Learning Institutes, visit www.cbkassociates.com or email email@example.com.
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