I recently spoke after mass at my church, St. Aedan’s, about the fact that most of Jersey City’s public schools lack working water fountains in all the schools. The result, I shared, was that kids often go through the school day thirsty; they are distracted from academics due to thirst, they suffer headaches due to thirst, and they leave school dehydrated due to thirst. It was heartening to speak after mass with fellow parishioners about how disturbing this all is; seeing people of good conscience acknowledge the dysfunction is important.
Jersey City Together’s education team has been pushing for four years to compel authorities to fix this issue. When we first started, I heard some say “it will never get fixed” and “this is Hudson County…nothing will be done” and “I didn’t have water and I ended up ok.” Apathy is a fierce headwind and it can come from a place of people feeling helpless and hopeless about change.
But I’ve been witness over the years to ordinary residents growing civic power through the community organizing model, and I wanted to invite others into that model on October 28th to see it in action.
Here are the steps to growing civic power through community organizing:
- Listen in community to understand issues of concern.
- Listen intentionally around issues you know are a concern — this will help attract others who share a self interest in resolving a common issue of concern.
- Research the issue. Understand its roots, why it’s not yet been fixed, and who has the power to fix it today.
- Engage those in power to fix it; give them a chance to act. Create space for dialog and solutions-building.
- Invite them to a public space to commit to acting.
- Hold them accountable for their commitments. Celebrate their progress and/or call out what they have failed to do.
Here’s a brief history of the WATER ISSUE using the six steps above:
- In 2018, Jersey City Together’s education team began listening in community. A key concern raised at that time was ACCESS TO WATER. Schools lacked working water fountains and so kids had limited (and at times no) access to water.
- Through 2018 and 2019, our team continued to listen and we proactively engaged the issue of water. We asked people directly: do water fountains work in your school? This broadened our base of engaged advocates.
- We also researched. We learned that the issue is complex. We learned that the two bodies most equipped to fix the fountains was the Jersey City Municipalities Authority (MUA) which could remediate the lead pipes, and the Board of Education which could facilitate the installation of new fountains connected to the remediated pipes.
- From 2018 through 2022, we have consistently engaged those in power in dialog to compel them to fix the issue. Our work has been cited in the news and at board of education meetings. The people in power knew that we are committed and not going away.
- On October 28th, we will invite those in power to a public space – PS #17 – to commit to fixing all schools. We will have good news to celebrate – some schools are fixed – but also challenges to highlight – some schools are still lacking fountains.
- After October 28th, our work will continue. But we will not give up, and we ask others to join us to help us complete the progress.
I’m providing below key additional details if you’re interested in learning more and joining us on Oct 28th. I’ve broken down the Who/What/When/Where/How and Why below.
The Jersey City Together education team is comprised of volunteer parent and caregivers, community advocates, former and current teachers and staff, and clergy. We are from schools, faith based groups, and nonprofits from across Jersey City. We have a landing page here with background around the issue.
Two individuals who are critical to getting our water fountains fixed are Dr. Norma Fernandez, Superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools, and Joseph Cunha, Executive Director of the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA). As of this writing, Dr. Fernandez has committed to attending the action (to her credit).
This is a public assembly to compel Jersey City authorities to fix the water fountains in the schools. For years, many fountains have been turned off due to lead pipe and other concerns. You can see a timeline of the issue here.
Some important nuance to share here is: because Jersey City is a former “Abbott” district, the state is technically supposed to be fixing the lead pipes. But the state is not fulfilling its mandate.
The district has been using a stopgap measure for 10+ years involving the transport of thousands of gallons of water in plastic jugs around the city via greenhouse gas emitting delivery trucks. This solution has become normalized over the years. Part of our work is calling out how abnormal and unacceptable this is.
So if “children being denied water” isn’t a compelling enough reason, then let’s consider climate impact.
Here’s the current “stopgap solution” (which needs to change): the district pays thousands of dollars per year to companies like WB Mason to deliver thousands of water jugs throughout the city using fossil fueled trucks that wear and tear our public roads. I clicked some pictures of one such delivery at PS #17 while I was helping plan the Oct 28th action:
Here is the truck parked at PS #17, offloading new bottles and collecting empty bottles:
Check out all the plastic being used; this is one school out of dozens:
This is a picture from a few years ago of another school’s empty bottles waiting to be picked up for recycling:
This is a picture from another school clicked just the other day of water cooler that disallows kids from using water bottles (presumably to ration the water) and instead requires the use of plastic cups.
The plastic cups that kids are given are dixie-cup sized:
So we use this carbon and plastic laden process to distribute water throughout the city. Yet, kids go thirsty when this expensive, climate-unfriendly solution fails and it does…
- water jugs run dry,
- cups are not available to drink from (so kids cannot access the water in the bottles),
- families cannot always afford their own bottles (which can run $10+ each),
- if families can afford the bottles, kids can lose them on the way to school or during the school day,
- and more.
Isn’t it better to just fix the fountains? If you think so, join us on Oct 28th to help compel those in charge to finish the job of fixing all fountains.
October 28th at 1pm (show up early – 12:30pm – to sign into the school and get a seat inside). Our volunteers will be ready to greet you outside the school, help you park in the school lot, and help you find the auditorium.
Joseph Bresinger PS #17 School on Bergen Avenue is located on Bergen Avenue between Kensington and Belmont:
Because kids need water when they are thirsty. Because when we deny a child water, we are denying them dignity. Because the current stopgap solution is climate-unfriendly. Because a solution is possible, as progress to date has proven. Check out the progress tracker (snapshot below) on JCT’s water advocacy landing page:
Join our base of support. Be part of “people power” in a public space. Show up at 12:30pm to get a seat inside. The action will start promptly at 1pm. If you want to learn more before Oct 28th, you can also:
1–Click here to learn the status of your school (are the water fountains on…in progress of getting fixed…or not even on the city’s radar?)
2–Click here to see a brief overview of how we ended up with schools that lack working fountains.
3—Click here to view the Jersey City Together advocacy page and learn context around the issue.
4–Click here to pre-register for the assembly (not required, but helpful for organizers to estimate how many will turnout)
By engaging the links above you are joining others in community who care. One of our leaders, Jim Nelson, has been a persistent point person on this issue and was recently recognized by the Jersey City Board of Education for his advocacy.