Flint, Mich., is hundreds of miles from South Boston, but to students and staff at St. Peter Academy, the city does not feel so distant.
St. Peter Academy, the small private school in South Boston, is partnering with Freeman Elementary School in Flint, one of the city’s public schools, to assist children there affected by the ongoing water crisis.
“There are bad things happening, and we can make a difference,” said Caitlyn DeCarlo, the first grade teacher at St. Peter Academy.
Flint, a city with a population just shy of about 100,000 people, is in the midst of addressing a drinking water contamination crisis. The city, which changed its water source in 2014, recently declared a state of emergency after realizing that lead is contaminating the water people had been using and consuming.
DeCarlo watched a video about the water crisis a couple of weeks ago, which greatly sparked her concern. She explained to her students how the students in Flint did not have safe water to drink and asked what she thought they should do. The students, she said, wanted to send buckets of water to Michigan. Rather than literally send water across the country, St. Peter Academy decided to spread awareness and raise money for those affected.
Last Friday, Jan. 29, St. Peter Academy students walked through South Boston with signs they made, sharing information about Flint’s water crisis. The walk – a school-wide event – had students carrying brightly colored signs with messages such as “We want clean water for Flint.”
In addition to the walk to raise awareness, DeCarlo also wanted to build empathy for the students in Flint. Children at St. Peter Academy spent a few hours one day trying to go without water, to try to understand what their peers in Michigan are going through.
“It was very, very difficult,” DeCarlo said.
The partnership with the school, which is pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and has about 400 students, runs beyond just this one day last week. The partnership will continue for the foreseeable future and the South Boston students will build relationships with Flint students, something the local students seem to be looking forward to.
“‘Wait, we’re not going to Flint?’” DeCarlo said a student asked. Travel to Michigan will not be involved, but the children will exchange letters and will Skype.
Freeman Elementary School was chosen as the partner school, DeCarlo said, because it seemed to be one of the most affected schools in the community. A government statement from November about water testing in Flint showed that the school has problems with its fixtures: “At Freeman Elementary, 31 faucets were tested using a series of four samples each. Twenty-two outlets did not show elevated lead exposure, but nine faucets came back with initially high results. … For a permanent solution, the school should opt to replace the faucets and fountains of concern.”
In the statement, Flint Community Schools Superintendent Bilal Tawwab said, “Once those fixes have been made, the (Department of Environmental Quality) has offered to provide additional testing of the water at Freeman Elementary to ensure the water from every sample is safe for our students. Flint Community Schools appreciates the efforts by the DEQ, working with all stakeholders to make sure our water continues to be tested and that our students have access to safe, clean drinking water.”
Several South Boston businesses have agreed to assist St. Peter Academy in its fundraising efforts, DeCarlo said. Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant and Local 149 have gotten involved, she said. A couple hundred dollars have been raised so far, she said.
St. Peter Academy has a link on its website, stpeteracademy.com, where donations can be made.