What to Do about Flint
February 8, 2016
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.
- Share information. Get informed as educators and share information with students. Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the NY Times, in his article America is Flint, has added his voice to express outrage and how we must do more as a government and individuals. The January Time Magazine has a front page story The Poisoning of an American City – read the issue. Depending on the age of your students share articles or segments. Time for Kids has an article An American Crises Deepens. There are many articles to be read and more to come.
- Interview Experts. 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 about any precautions taken over the years? What is the water source for your community? Who would you interview form a local university or college? Identify and interview reporters who are providing news about the Flint situation in local or regional media to find out how they conduct their research.
- Take a Virtual Trip to Northeast Oklahoma. Before the Flint news broke, northeast Oklahoma has been embroiled in lead poisoning of a most serious manner. L.E.A.D. Agency has been a foremost organization rallying the community, holding an annual conference, engaging with the CDC, EPA, their governor, Harvard, and others for decades to correct the lead poisoning in Tar Creek and its impact. Visit their website and read the January 26, 2016 blog to get a better sense that it’s not just about Flint. Really. Between Kristof’s article and the work in northeast Oklahoma you can see this terrible situation that must be stopped across the United States. For another way to introduce what students have done through service learning in northeast Oklahoma, read Going Blue, A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers & Wetlands a book I coauthored with environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau. The Tar Creek story and resultant student action is a centerpiece of the book.
- 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 — that’s another idea for action—creating online content that informs youth 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 the Tar Creek situation, this 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 our 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, indirectly, through advocacy, or advanced research. And remember to write officials, local and federal, to insist upon the legislation to make prevention what we do rather than have to clean up mess after mess. Our collective voices matter. What is already being done to help?
Chicago: Elementary kids collecting water.
Buffalo State lends a hand.
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. As the author of these publications, in collaboration with the outstanding EarthEcho team, I assure you they follow the five stages of service learning with solid information and examples of students in action. Go to EarthEcho International click on Educator Resources, click on Action Guides and Filter, Register – then download. 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. And 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! Document what you do and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can!
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