Expand Water Access in SF Schools

by Matt Haney and Supervisor Eric Mar on June 26, 2014

Remember those traditional white school water fountains, often a bit dirty or unappealing, and never dispensing quite enough cold water to fully quench your thirst?

Well, in the majority of schools in San Francisco, those are still the norm.

Ask students in San Francisco schools, and many will tell you that they won’t drink out of these older fountains. Kids spit in them, they’re often broken, or the water is warm, they’ll tell you.

Even when students will drink from them, the volume of water they provide is often far too tepid to meet the need, particularly during lunch. And without widely available cups or reusable bottles, it is no wonder that many students prefer to either bring soda, drink juice or energy drinks from a vending machine, or just drink nothing at all.

It’s hard for a student to concentrate in class if they aren’t drinking water, or even worse, drinking mostly soda or other sugary beverages. Want to increase test scores and student achievement? Providing accessible, fresh, clean water to all students is a good place to start.

The standard recommendation for water consumption for kids is 6-8 glasses a day, with teenagers needing more. Most surveys show that kids are getting much less than that, driven in part by their lack of adequate water consumption during school hours.

Water makes up more than half of a child’s weight, and a steady supply, not just when they are “thirsty,” is necessary to keep her body working properly.  Poor hydration can result in impaired mental and physical performance, and an altered mood. Choosing soda or sugary juice rather than water is also highly connected to increased obesity, diabetes and poor health outcomes for children.

There are solutions available. Starting in 2010, an innovative, city school district partnership, with leadership from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, called “Drink Tap,” led to the installation of dozens of “Hydration Station” or “Bottle Fillers” in San Francisco schools.

These Hydration Stations, typically located in or near the cafeteria, dispense cold, fresh water that can easily and quickly fill up a cup or reusable water bottle. The program includes widely distributed reusable bottles for all students and an educational curriculum related to the importance of drinking water. High school students learning construction were also involved with the installations.

Three years into the “Drink Tap” initiative, dozens of Hydration Stations have been installed, with dozens more planned for this summer. Unfortunately, the funding doesn’t currently exist to expand the Hydration Stations and reusable water bottles to the roughly 60 schools that currently do not have them, and are not slated to receive them.

Survey results show significant perception and behavior change in the schools with Hydration Stations, including double the number of students drinking from the faucet or station, and double the students bringing a bottle from home.

From the beginning, the “Drink Tap” program has been a close partnership between the city and school district. In that spirit, we, Supervisor Mar and Commissioner Haney, are requesting that the funding be included in this year’s budget to expand this program to the remaining 60 schools.

San Francisco recently banned the sale of plastic water bottles on city property. Yet in San Francisco schools, partly because of the lack of accessible, free water, kids are still often seen bringing or purchasing single use plastic bottles of water, juice or soda. Hydration Stations can help change that.

Getting students “hooked on water” can also have significant impact on their future choices beyond school, with long-term benefits to their health and well-being.

The Drink Tap initiative is a win-win for our school district, city, and our kids; we hope that the Board of Supervisors and Mayor join us in supporting and expanding it. It is hard to imagine a more essential and urgent priority for our city than the health, wellness and academic success of our children.

Filed under: Education, San Francisco News

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