We can make dirty water clean. We can use magic.

This is Flint, MI, from the eyes of a 3yr old, in one of our classrooms this week.  Imagine the world from his perspective. Michigan is a far-off place, accessible only by airplane. They have dirty water and their children are sick. We have clean water and our children are healthy. My teachers and classmates are talking about how to help them, but all we’re doing is baking cupcakes. We will need magic to be able to help those children feel better.

And then a funny thing happened – the magic of community. Last week, Carla Farson (teacher, classroom 2) and Debra Schwartzreich (teacher, classroom 3) started spreading the word to our staff: we should be doing something. There’s a problem, and we’re responsible for pitching in. The conversation in every classroom, from 2s to preK, shifted towards issues of dirty water, broken pipes, sick people, and how we can help.  Our students have spent the week baking and preparing for a bake sale, and yesterday raised several hundred dollars in a matter of hours. They’ll be back at it today, so please come hungry and with an open wallet.

In a Reggio-inspired school, the child is an active, contributing citizen, whose voice is heeded and respected. In a school governed by Jewish values, our work is to not only learn about the world but to play a part in healing it, in tikkun olam. Pirke Avot, an ancient collection of Jewish wisdom sayings, teaches us that we are not obligated to complete the task…but we are obligated to begin. This is complemented by another verse reminding us that “the day is short and the work is great.” Our children are born into a world that demands action and communal responsibility; they will inherit the maladies of previous generations. The Jewish response is not to throw up our hands, asking, “Who, me? What can I do?” The Jewish response is to get started. Our children will not complete the task, not now and not in their lifetimes. But if they must begin, nursery school seems like an awful good place to start. Nursery school is a place where children’s actions and words mean something. Nursery school is a place where we learn how to respond to the world around us. 

Here is how your children have responded, in their own words, as news of Flint and preparation for the bake sale took over this week in each of our classrooms:

From our 2yr old classes:

We don’t have magic in the classroom. We could use magic Purell and spray it into the water and turn it into clean water.

Ew! Yucky! (Looking at dirty water)

We can throw the dirty water outside and get clean water. I like the water in my bathtub.

What do we use water for? For drinking. A pond. Plants. Also for flowers. Washing hands. For the pool.

Make cupcakes and brownies to sell so we can use the money to buy new water to wash their food and take a bath.

I’m making something for the bake sale.  (Scribbling with markers)

I ate a cupcake. Mine was 18 dollars.

From our 3yr old classes:

They need new pipes, just the right size; they can pay it. Maybe they can call the plumber.

They can call 911.

If you drink dirty water, you get sick. You need clean water, so you don’t die.

We need to give them money to buy water. We can send them money in an airplane! And they can use the money to buy food and clean water. And they can take medicine and get better. We can buy them medicine.

You need water to grow up and be so tall.

If I had brown water at my house I would go to my cousin Sophie’s house and take a bath there.

If every, every, every part of my house had that water, I would go to another city. If the whole wide world had that water, they would go to another world.

We can go to Flint, maybe the whole entire class, and the mommies and the daddies, and we can go to Flint with the teachers too. And we could put clean water there.

You could carry a whole sink over there.

We can bring hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bottles of water and bring them to all the people.

I took all the money and I gave all the people treats. So the people don’t have dirty water now; they have clean water.

From our 4yr old classes:

We are selling the bars and then giving the money to the people in Michigan.

If we didn’t have water, I would feel thirsty. Other people in the world don’t have water and we have water. That makes us lucky.

If we didn’t have water we would have lots of cavities because water is made of toothpaste.

If you don’t drink water in a whole day you will be sick and you can’t come to school.

Maybe we can take a trip to Michigan and bring the clean water with us and then pour it into their water to give them clean water. Or we can just send them the money.

We can get a lot, a lot, a lot of clean water and then get a big airplane and bring it to there.

Maybe we could get a jet pack and push the clouds down and make it rain.

On a rainy day go outside with lots of cups and the next day take all the water cups that we filled the day before and take them to Michigan.

They could just come to NYC and bring lots of plastic bottles and fill them up with water and bring them to restaurants then they would have lots of water.

I hope that doesn’t happen for NYC because that would be terrible. What if I was so sick and I couldn’t get water then I would throw up.

Maybe me and my mom and dad could go there and buy lots of clean water and put it in their sinks.

When you turn the water on in my house it is clear.

Maybe it’s getting polluted. That means that something is changing colors. Maybe that is toilet water. Maybe someone put something yellow in the water and that’s why it comes out that color.

A quote from President Obama’s January 2013 inaugural address hanging on my office wall mirrors the teachings of Pirke Avot: “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.” That includes the voices of our youngest citizens. Our children are not only learning about values, they are defending them. Join your children in standing up for the people of Flint, and for people everywhere who are treated unfairly. Show your children you stand with them; listen to their voices; help them begin the work.

Shabbat shalom,