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Grants help reopen Flint school to aid children in wake of water crisis

FLINT, MI -- Two well-known organizations have joined forces to fund the reopening of a closed Flint elementary school to provide early childhood services for children impacted by the city's water crisis.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has provided $1 million, while $500,000 has come from the Pritzker Children's Initiative, a program of the J.B. and M.K Pritzker Family Foundation to reopen the Walton Drive school, off Ballenger Highway, and house the Great Expectations Early Childhood Program.

Bilal Tawwab, superintendent of Flint Community Schools, said employees are being hired for the building that's expected to help service free of charge up to 220 children ages two months to 5 years old.

"This has been an ongoing conversation from the state of this whole thing," said Tawwab of getting the program up and running in terms of mitigating development issues among children in the city. "One of the key strategies is to be able to reach kids early on."

The program is a partnership between Flint schools, where buildings will continue to provide bottled water for students during the 2016-17 calendar, University of Michigan-Flint, and Genesee Intermediate School District. 

Part of a $600,000 grant provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to identify the educational, behavioral, and health needs of children impacted by the water crisis is also going towards the program.

Looking at the district's options for housing the students, Tawwab said Cummings -- a building that closed in 2008 and once more at the end of the 2014-15 school year amid budget cuts by Flint schools -- was the first option.

Building and grounds renovations at Cumming are being overseen by the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation, with the grant money given to the Foundation for the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation. The doors are expected to be opened to students by mid-September.

"It's essential that all Flint kids have access to the best educational opportunities, beginning as early as possible," said Ridgway H. White, C.S. Mott Foundation president. "The good news is that there are a lot of people, organizations and government agencies working together to make that a reality."

J.B. Pritzker, board chairman of the Pritzker Family Foundation, said providing high quality education, health care, and nutrition to students is vitally important to allow children in the city to achieve success in the future.

"The Cummings renovations will allow Flint's children increased access to high quality programs during the critical first five years," he said of being in the wake of the water crisis and potential lead impacts on children.

While not revealing future sources of funding, Tawwab said it's been "a long conversation" in getting the program started "because you definitely want to be able to open a center and provide such an opportunity and you want it to be sustainable as well."