Getting Drinking Water In SchoolsWed 17 Oct 2012
Story by Marice Ashe, ChangeLab Solutions
Headed to your neighborhood school for “Take Your Parents to Lunch” Day? Check out the water fountains while you’re there. See any like the ones you remember from your childhood? If so, are they in good working order? And how does the water taste?
Sad to say, the prevalent drinking fountains of our youth are all but relics of the past. At many schools today, sugary beverages are far easier to come by than safe, free drinking water.
In the United States, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program are now required by law to provide access to free drinking water during lunch wherever meals are served to students. But many schools are struggling to make that happen.
Making drinking water available to students is not only the law; it’s a way to promote kids’ overall health and ability to learn. Children who are dehydrated tend to experience a drop in short-term memory and concentration. What’s more, drinking sugary sodas and sports drinks instead of water can put kids at greater risk of excess weight gain and tooth decay.
What can parents and other community members do to make sure their schools provide safe, free drinking water?
• Push for stronger school policies. Schools can go beyond federal requirements to specify that free and safe drinking water be made widely available on school campuses throughout the day. School policies also can explicitly permit students to bring water into classrooms in clear, capped containers.
• Improve water quality. By performing regular testing and maintenance and making the information accessible, districts can help assuage student and staff concerns about water quality. For information on testing programs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed guidance for schools (see www.epa.gov). Schools can restore deteriorating infrastructure by working with local and state government or securing federal funding to cover the costs of repairs. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District used funds from a city bond earmarked for school improvements to repair plumbing in its schools.
• Invest in a water dispenser. Schools can provide a water jug or water cooler in the cafeteria, or they can go a step further to install a filtration device to provide a permanent source of clean and appealing drinking water. To purchase a filter, schools may need money for installation, maintenance, and labor (to fill and sanitize dispensers).
Join ChangeLab Solutions for a free webinar tomorrow, on October 18 to learn about the federal “water in schools” requirement, how to address concerns about the safety of tap water, and ways to fund and implement alternatives to the standard drinking fountain. Our website also features more resources on making free drinking water accessible to students.
About the author: Marice Ashe is the founder and CEO of ChangeLab Solutions, a national nonprofit policy research and training center.
Photo Credit: Jeff Turner/Flickr Creative Commons.
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