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Boston school rallies, raises funds for Flint water crisis

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Liam Bell and fellow Saint Peter Academy students made their way down West Broadway to educate people about the situation in Flint, Mich.
Liam Bell and fellow Saint Peter Academy students made their way down West Broadway to educate people about the situation in Flint, Mich.(Suzanne Kreiter)

Flint, Mich., may be more than 700 miles away, but a group of South Boston students is reaching out to a school from the Midwestern city in solidarity as it grapples with a severe water crisis.

On Friday, more than 70 students and teachers from St. Peter Academy marched through the streets of South Boston to rally and raise funds for Freeman Elementary, their partner school in Flint. Students at the two schools will become pen pals, and they will meet each other over Skype, teachers said.

For the local students, it is a lesson in empathy, as well as current events. For the students in Flint, however, it's a serious personal health matter.

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Flint's water system became contaminated last year after the financially struggling city switched from the Detroit municipal system and began drawing from the Flint River. Thousands of residents have been affected because of an unsafe level of lead in the city water.

A state of emergency was declared, and every child in the city under age 6 is at risk for lead poisoning, according to news reports.

"My inspiration was that I saw the lead in the schools over there was just ridiculously high and I wanted my students to know that students are being affected," said Caitlyn DeCarlo, a first-grade teacher at St. Peter Academy who organized the effort. "All fund-raising efforts that we do are going to go to [Freeman]."

During Friday's rally, the students, bundled up in winter gear, carried signs that read "Fresh Water for Flint!" and "Free Flint from Filthy Water!"

The kindergartners through eighth-graders circled the blocks surrounding the school and marched up and down West Broadway. They chanted, "What do we want? Clean water!" and "Who are we helping? Flint!"

The students were enthusiastic in their cheers — they even got a few honks from supportive drivers who saw them marching. One construction worker stopped the group on West Broadway, asked what they were rallying for, and then pledged to donate money to be sent to the Michigan school.

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"We want to help support Flint with the clean water, and me and my friend made a sign that says 'Give Flint fresh water,' " said Bobby, a fifth-grader. "I feel bad that they're really, really sick."

A second-grade teacher, Cathy Seero, said she has been teaching her students lessons on why they should help Flint students in need. She did not let her students drink water for three hours on Friday, to show them what it's like to have a contaminated drinking supply. At the end of that exercise, she said, they understood what the Flint students felt and it impassioned them.

"You have to feel it here," Seero said, pointing to her heart. "They get it now, they're like, 'This is horrible.' You're never too young to learn compassion, and that's really our biggest take-away."

The funds the school raises will be sent directly to Freeman Elementary, and the school can choose what to do with it, Seero said.


J.D. Capelouto can be reached at jd.capelouto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto.