Students Provide Water Filters to Puerto Rico and Learn a Lesson

middle school students meeting

The crisis in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is a horrible tragedy. Many of us listening to the news stories feel helpless as people die and suffer without resources that many Americans take for granted. For middle schoolers this crisis is also a learning opportunity. It is a real life example of how geographic location and race lead to privilege in our global community.  It is an opportunity to discover how the world really works and what avenues they have to make a difference. 

Discovering an Unfair World

Developmentally, young adolescents are entering a stage where they comprehend that society isn’t fair. It is a hard transition for them. From the ages of 9-12, they were obsessed with fairness. Now they realize that very little about the world is fair and they aren’t sure how to feel about it. They recognize people being treated differently from one another based off skin color and feel guilt and outrage. They witness how money shapes political decisions and they feel angry and discouraged.

hurricane Maria damage

Picture from ABC News.

News like what is currently happening in Puerto Rico destroy the middle schooler’s notion of fairness and often leave them feeling powerless to do anything.  As educators, it is our responsibility to address those feelings and, whenever possible, encourage students to engage and make a difference.

Student Empowerment through Charitable Giving

Arthur Morgan School empowers its students by giving them real control over the running the school. They get to decide daily schedules and set school policies. They also decide how to spend the school’s Charitable Fund, which was money given to the school for the purpose of donating to other nonprofits. 

For the last few weeks students have listened to announcements and news reports about the devastation in Houston, south Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. They heard about how aid was being rushed to Texas and Florida and noticed when similar aid was being withheld from the citizens of Puerto Rico. They discussed the government’s hesitancy in providing personnel and money, and that the Jones Act was not waived for a week after the hurricane despite the devastating level of damage to the island. (Update: The Jones Act waiver has expired and will not be renewed.) In light of the crisis in Puerto Rico, students decided to use part of the Charitable Fund to help those people in need.

Finding Ways to Help Puerto Rico

Middle school student government meetingDuring the school’s All School Meeting, the student body formed a small committee to find a nonprofit that was providing aid. Given the breadth of challenges to the people in Puerto Rico right now, the students wanted to focus on addressing a specific problem. They chose clean water. Living at the source of our watershed, students appreciate every day the value of pure water. The students decided to investigate an organization called Waves For Water. Waves For Water was developed with one mission in mind: get clean water to every single person who needs it. They were already in Puerto Rico distributing water filters to remote communities.

The student committee researched the nonprofit’s financial statements on GuideStar. They sent an email to the headquarters of Waves For Water and learned how the nonprofit manages its money and how it works to accomplish its mission. After the information was compiled, the committee made a recommendation to the entire student body to donate $5000 to Waves For Water for disaster relief in Puerto Rico. The decision by All School Meeting was a unanimous yes!

middle school students going on a field tripFirst Steps to Inspiring Ends

The excitement AMS students demonstrated to make this donation shows how enthusiastic they are to be a part of solving the world’s problems. Many of them would like to travel and help victims from any of the hurricanes rebuild their homes. Perhaps they will get that opportunity during our 18 day field trips this spring, but Arthur Morgan School’s student governance program also allows them to make a difference now and take a step toward making the world a better place.