How to Turn Your First Grader into a Water Activist

By: VLA Vice Principal, Oyafunmi Konibaje (former VLA Teacher)

With the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan my first grade students were anxious to learn about the state water in their homes and environments. Students began to ask a simple question: how can we make sure that the water in our homes is safe to drink and use?  This question lead students on an ongoing investigation about lead, lead contamination and water activism.


A First Grader is naturally compelled to right any wrongs and stand up in the face of injustice.


My first lesson was to provide students with academic vocabulary and background knowledge about lead. We researched how lead was used in the past and in present day. We discussed how lead was used in a variety of products such as pots and pans, gasoline, paint, children’s toys and make- up. After this, students immediately became engaged in the process and went home to tell parents to check pots, pans, paint and make up that could be lead based.

Next we researched Flint, MI using videos, books and articles. Students were outraged at the city’s lack of concern about its people. Students learned how lead leached into the citizens water from corroded pipes. The children were saddened and angered by the effects lead contamination had on the people of Flint, MI.

After our research, we spoke with experts about the state of water in Chicago. We interviewed Dr. Suero from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and water commissioner, Mrs.  Deb Shore, from the Metropolitan  water reclamation District. This helped to further students background knowledge about water, lead and exposure to contaminants and toxins such as lead.

The Science teacher, Ms. McByrd , lead students through projects that examined the water filtration process. After they understood water could be filtered and developed a short term solution to a long term problem.





It didn’t take long for students to understand what they needed to do. Pass out water filters. From our discussion with Dr. Suero, we learned that filters must be NSF certified. We are working on an action plan to raise money for families at our school to have a water filters.

We also want to raise awareness about lead contaminated water and that Chicago citizens are testing their water. Through this process we learned that the City of Chicago will give free testing kits to anyone who request them by contacting 311.





My students have been transformed in this process. The more you make students aware of a problem, the more willing they are to take preventative steps so that problem does become widespread.

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