This past summer, following some devastating flooding, residents of Jackson, Mississippi lost access to clean water and were left without running water for days. The city had already been on a boil water notice since July and has been experiencing water problems for years — a result of decades of disinvestment by state and local government that most often affects communities of color like Jackson and Flint, Michigan. The city still has a ways to go to address the long-term and systemic challenges that created this crisis.
In September, Drew Whitely, our Teacher Outreach Associate, spoke with Susan Bender and Ranella Howard, two teachers in Jackson, to learn how educators are helping their students and communities navigate the effects of this crisis. Here is what we learned:
The water crisis is impacting some communities in Mississippi harder than others
Ranella Howard, a high school teacher, explained that issues such as lack of access to transportation meant that some residents were impacted by the crisis more than others. A family cannot get to a water distribution site if they have no way to get there. Like many, Ranella realized that she took resources like transportation access for granted and the water crisis highlighted how poverty and systemic inequity impacts lives on a daily basis.
Teachers are doing everything they can to support each other and their students
While some families are getting water from local organizations and distribution sites, teachers are taking matters into their own hands to fill the gap in schools. “I put in a big [DonorsChoose] project for jugs of water. I even have a Google form set up where the teachers can let me know when they need water,” says Ranella. "The students are elated to see the support and level of care in ensuring that they have safe, clean drinking water during another water crisis. They are so appreciative."
"I keep bottled water here that I go buy. I keep ramen noodles in my room for kids who are hungry and bowls for them.” — Susan Bender, high school teacher, Jackson, MS
Similarly, high school teacher Susan Bender makes sure that her students who don’t have access to water at home are able to get nourishment at school. “I keep bottled water here that I go buy. I keep ramen noodles in my room for kids who are hungry and bowls for them. If they're hungry, they could come and eat. I've had a lot more kids come and ask me for water.”
This crisis is mentally affecting students, teachers, and families
“A lot of kids just… they're frustrated. Teachers are frustrated,” says Ranella.
At schools like Susan’s, economic disparities further contribute to the mental health effects of this crisis. “If you think of a family… struggling to make ends meet with everything. And then on top of that, you put the stress of not being able to bathe your children, being afraid to let children bathe by themselves because they don't dare get that water in their mouth if they're showering or bathing. Trying to find transportation because you don't have any…to be able to get to one of these sites to get water and you sit in line for hours at the water places and by the time you get to it, they may have run out. And it's going to bring some people to the breaking point. It's a mental health issue at this point for a lot of people. You already can't provide, and now you can't even provide water”.
In addition to water, there are other helpful resources they need that are less obvious
While water donations continue to be helpful, these two teachers explained that there are more resources that would benefit their classrooms during this time. Ranella shared, “I'm planning on writing another project just for a refrigerator to keep stocked with water. It’s something no one really thinks about.” Since Jackson is especially hot during the first couple months of school, having cool water to drink makes a big difference.
When you’re in a classroom environment that doesn’t have easy access to water, you need resources to ensure your students are learning in a safe and sanitary environment. aWhen asked what would be useful, Susan responded, “Probably hand sanitizer because if you don't have nice water, you don't wanna wash your hands in brown water. So hand sanitizer, paper towels, spray cleaners, just the normal general hygiene [products].”
Right now, the DonorsChoose Community is doubling all donations to classrooms in Jackson, Mississippi. Help a teacher provide their students and families with the resources they need.