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Helping Schools Keep the Glass Half-Full


As new school nutrition standards go into effect, “smart snacks” need smart drinks to wash them down. A new toolkit produced by the Centers for Disease Control, Increasing Access to Drinking Water in Schools, provides educators with helpful ideas for steering kids toward the water fountain instead of the soda machine.

The CDC points out that when schools give kids better access to drinking water, they can provide an alternative to calorie-laden sugar-sweetened beverages. The smart snacks program and other recently implemented standards require that free water be served to students during meal times, including breakfast. Among other suggestions, the toolkit urges schools to provide water dispensers throughout their buildings, keep those dispensers clean and well-maintained, and allow students to bring water bottles to class.

The toolkit offers a template schools can use for conducting a needs assessment, analyzing their level and ease of access to drinking water, figuring out the perceptions of drinking water among students and others in the school community, and identifying people who can act as “water access champions.” It offers examples of how students can mobilize to advocate for themselves in this regard, such as that of a California high school where a group of students advocated having old and dirty water fountains replaced with new water-bottle-filling stations.

With the information from their needs assessments, schools can then implement drinking water access plans that comply with policy at the federal, state and local levels and ensure that good-tasting water from clean dispensers can be easily accessed in school buildings. Administrators are encouraged to get PTAs, local officials, and business partners involved in these efforts.

The toolkit also addresses stakeholder concerns and solutions. Is there a perception in the community that the local water supply isn’t clean? The toolkit notes that EPA standards in most cases ensure that it is, but urges schools to be vigilant about keeping their plumbing in good repair. Do kids just not like the taste? Make it a funding priority to install equipment that filters or chills the water.

“Providing students with access to safe, free drinking water throughout the school day is one strategy schools can use to create an environment that supports health and learning,” the CDC notes. The school water access toolkit can be downloaded on the CDC website

Donna Brutkoski authored this report.

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