Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Operation 1,000 Days

For the past two years, in honor of 9/11, my social studies students have brainstormed ideas for what they could do for a service learning project. I then take five of the project ideas that I believe to be doable and open up the project to volunteers. I hold a meeting to give more information about how the project works. Any interested student stays on and the ones that don't feel it is for them, leave. Once I have my group, I put up the five ideas and we vote.

Meetings happen once a week during their lunch and recess time. This year I have 32 students involved; this is one third of the fifth grade.  They voted to help with the Flint Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan. If you are not familiar with it, the Detroit Free Press put out a powerful visual essay on December 17, 2016. You can watch it here.

My students wanted to help another elementary school in Flint. I knew of a high school teacher in Flint who was doing student work with the crisis and reached out to her.  She connected me to her brother who works in the after-school program at one of the elementary schools. He gave me the contact information for the principal at Neithercut Elementary. I called the principal and talked with her. I explained what my fifth grade service learning team wanted to do and asked her what she needed.  She explained that the students in Flint still cannot drink the water. The Flint Coalition provides bottled water to the students every other day and another organization provides fresh fruits and vegetables. All the students receive breakfast and lunch daily. What they needed, she said, was healthy snacks and books to help reverse the damage the lead has already done.

These students have lead in their blood due to the water supply. The lead has caused a lot of problems including headaches, stomach aches, rashes, anemia, and behavior problems. It also can affect brain development. Can you imagine not realizing that something you need for survival is actually causing you pain?

When I told my students what the principal had said, we created a plan. The students created flyers to send out to the families at our school asking for donations, wrote business letters to community businesses requesting donations, and called companies that make healthy snacks asking for food donations.

And yesterday I was made aware of an award that encourages students to pay it forward. It is called ePIFanyNOw. The deadline is April 10th, the day we get back from spring break. Since this is something that I think they could be win, I called an emergency meeting during lunch. I explained the award and told them what was involved. Today they answered the two essay questions and tomorrow they will create the video. If they win, they could receive between $500-$1,000 towards the purchase of healthy snacks for the cause.

The first essay question was easy for them to answer. It was an informative one about the project. The second, however, was a little more difficult. When I asked them "Why should your project win the Y-PIF Award?" They all looked at me.

Nobody raised their hands.

I then said, "This service learning project was open to every fifth grader, and you all showed up. Each week you give up your recess and eating in the lunch room to be a part of this. Why?"


Then a stream of hands went up.

This was their response: " Our project should be picked because it has been over 1,000 days since the residents of Flint have been able to drink water from their taps. We feel fortunate that we can drink fresh water and bathe without thinking about it. We want to help these kids because we want to make a difference. We can't imagine what it would be like to not have clean water and the water we did have, poison  our bodies. Sometimes we take what we have for granted and others aren't as fortunate as us."

They get it. 

They deserve the award.

But we will let the board of directors decide that. 


  1. Great project! You should be so very proud of your students and their convictions to help such a worthy cause.
    Thank you also for informing me of how dire this situation truly is!

  2. This is awesome! Yes, the students deserve to win because they acknowledged an issue and worked together as a team. They understand the gravity of the situation.

  3. Amazing!! Your caption for this story hooked me in. I hope they win, they sound like they care so much about this cause! Good luck! Either way, the lessons you are sharing with them are so valuable.

  4. WOW. The really powerful teaching going on is that we CAN make a positive difference in the world. You should be very proud of your students!

  5. Your students have my vote. What a fabulous way to create activists.This is the sort of thing they will always remember about 5th grade.

  6. You have amazing and compassionate students and they deserve to win the award. As a teacher and a mom, when I first heard of the lead poisoning the water in Flint, my first thought was for an entire generation of children in Flint who have been slowly poisoned by their water, and the decades of repercussions that will have. Thank you for mentoring your students while they work for such an important cause.

  7. I vote for them to win as well! What a wonderful way to help your students see that they can change the world! I'm so proud of you and your students!