“We continue to dedicate as many resources as possible to provide programming, services and support to the children and families impacted by the water crisis,” said Dr. Lisa Hagel, Superintendent of the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD). Although some headlines indicate the water crisis may have passed, the work that the GISD and many other school districts and organizations have ahead of them to help mitigate any impact of the lead in water is immense.
Dr. Hagel described it, officials have expanded programming and services through June 2019 to identify and support developmental delays – continuous testing, monitoring, and assisting every one of the 20,000 Flint children affected by lead in the water supply.
Despite the sense of importance, at the heart of this work is the motivation of compassion and problem-solving. Flint, she feels, has enough challenges without the added problems from the residue, so to speak, of the water crisis. Dr. Hagel’s tenure as Superintendent of the GISD has been highlighted by innovative initiatives and solutions to an array of challenges (See the cover-story profile of Dr. Hagel and the GISD in the Winter 2018 issue of Innovative Health Magazine).
“We are not going to give up on any of these children or families, and we will continue to pursue the funding and resources needed to help,” Hagel said. She reported that water is tested regularly and although filters are installed in all GISD operated buildings in Flint; students continue to drink bottled water. In addition, precautions are taken in toy cleaning and food preparation, again, using bottled water. Walmart, Coca Cola, Nestle, United Way, celebrities, and many other individuals – local and from across the nation – have made bottled water donations. Dr. Hagel is grateful for the help, as it allows for these sustained precautions and programs.
Lead can cause a variety of health problems, from decreased bone and muscle growth, to speech and language issues, to developmental delays. Dr. Hagel said the GISD has worked hard, and continues its many efforts, to implement numerous programs including physical therapy, occupational therapy, home visits, literacy efforts, and early childhood programs which all focus on assisting children as early as possible. She said that national, state, and local funding has allowed for an enormous expansion of programming for families in Flint, but that funding for sustained programming is uncertain, currently ending in June of 2019.
In all, Dr. Hagel says 16,000 K-12 students and 4,000 preschool children receive support across a wide area, including the City of Flint, charter schools, and alldistricts throughout Genesee County. In addition to training for parents and teachers on the effects of lead on children, the GISD has expanded Early On® Genesee County and other early childhood services for children and families affected by the water crisis.
Ridgeway White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, said, “In the wake of the water crisis, we learned that increasing access to high quality early childhood education was one of the most important things we could do.” The Mott Foundation partnered to open the largest Educare site in America, a 36,000-square-foot, $15 million facility that includes a parent center, a theater, play spaces, a STEM learning lab, and classrooms with age-appropriate learning toys. The site is part of a $100 million commitment the Mott Foundation made to Flint.
Educare Flint is one of 17 early childhood programs operated by GISD in Flint. In total, 1,257 students are enrolled in these programs through either Early Head Start, Head Start, or the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). There are many additional early childhood programs located in Flint and operated in partnership with GISD. Enrollment in these early childhood programs is free for families and children in the City of Flint who were exposed to the Flint water system between April 2014 and August 2016.
Dr. Hagel pointed out that the community’s youngest students are among the most vulnerable. Therefore, GISD’s efforts to serve this population targeted the expansion of early childhood educational opportunities, beginning with children as young as six weeks old, through Early On® Genesee County. The GISD received grant dollars from the Michigan Department of Education to expand Early On® services for children, birth to five years old, impacted by the water crisis. Traditionally, Early On® services are provided to children up to three years of age. This expansion has resulted in:
- Approximately 40,000 services to children and families.
- Expanded services include nursing, speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work, and service coordination.
- Extensive early literacy support with over 24,000 increased literacy experiences and activities for families (from October 2017-August 2018).
- Increased literacy opportunities for Flint homebased children, preschool age children, and additional family literacy support.
- Expanded social emotional opportunities, and Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) provided to over 3,000 preschool age children in over 170 classrooms.
- Born to Read literacy partner providing a canvas bag for newborn babies and families containing at least two children’s books, developmental materials, Early On® materials, as well as Dolly Parton Imagination Library information. Born to Read is a partnership between Michigan State University-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative and GISD’s Early On® program, with support from the National Basketball Players’ Association.
However, challenges continue to exist and dedication to sustaining these efforts and new opportunities remain the focus of the GISD’s efforts. Cognitive testing, behavioral assessments, and developmental screenings are ongoing. Every day, children and their developmental progress are being monitored.
In an effort to sustain this work, build a sense of efficacy, and to develop a positive mindset in the wake of the water crisis, the GISD staff participate in training and work on aspects of positive psychology, with the goal to have children and adults remain positive, hopeful and focused to achieve best outcomes.
“I feel you always have to have hope in life, and it is our hope that we fulfill every need for these children so they can succeed. We want to provide every opportunity and support service we can so all these students who were impacted can fulfill their dreams.” Dr. Hagel continued, “There’s no given prediction for what the effects [of lead] may be on young children.
However, we have many strategies in place now that we hope will position our children to reach their greatest potential in school.”
In summarizing GISD’s remarkable activities during these challenging times, Dr. Hagel said, “For all these reasons, I’m honored to be here at this critical and challenging time. If you look back and know you’ve done great things for families in need, and children in need, that’s what it’s about.”