Proper hydration is crucial to better health and optimal cognitive function. Yet, many students in the U.S. struggle to stay hydrated at school, often because the water provided isn’t up to safety standards or doesn’t taste as good as it should. And some students are at even higher risk of dehydration, depending on a number factors including race, ethnicity and socioeconomic background.
Without ready access to clean, filtered water, students are less likely to drink as much water as they should. This leads to dehydration, which brings a litany of negative consequences. Even a 1 to 2% drop in hydration levels can negatively impact a student’s learning, notes Dave Sklodowski, Vertical Market Manager of the K-12 segment for Elkay®. He and his team work to provide schools with filtered ezH2O® Bottle Filling Stations — a sustainable solution for cleaner, fresh-tasting drinking water. “We’ve heard directly from teachers about the difference in attention span, energy levels and engagement from students who routinely hydrate compared with those who do not,” he says.
More school districts are increasingly prioritizing hydration to improve children’s access to the health benefits they need to thrive. Could your students benefit from cleaner, healthier water?
Why hydration matters
Most realize hydration is important, but you might be surprised at how vital it is to learning. Given that the human body is 60% water and the brain is 73% water, hydration is essential to stave off fatigue, headaches and compromised concentration.
And yet, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American children and adolescents consume significantly less water than adults. In fact, the CDC found that 20% of children and teens don’t any drink water during the day, and about half of school-aged children are not adequately hydrated.
This trend is even more prevalent among underserved communities. The CDC found that Black and Hispanic children and youth living in lower-income households consume significantly less water than other groups. This hydration gap was also noted in a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which found that Black children are at the highest risk of dehydration.
This was the case at Equitas Charter Academy #3 in Los Angeles. Nearly all (99%) of the school’s students came from minority communities as of 2021, according to U.S. News. Moreover, 93% of its students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds according to the school’s most recent demographics data.
Miriam Jimenez, school operations manager at Equitas Academy, noticed the effects of dehydration among her students. “Dehydrated kiddos would come in here with headaches and low energy, which means they’re not at their 100% best to learn,” Jimenez said.
She pinpointed the issue: Because students were hesitant to drink the school’s tap water, they did not drink as much as they needed. But soon after partnering with Elkay to offer filtered bottle filling stations — which reduce lead, sediment and the taste and odor of chlorine — she saw an increase in students’ intake. She says the bottle filling stations are game-changers, with the increased hydration leading to fewer energy dips, headaches and stomachaches.
Challenges to ensuring proper hydration
It often lands on adults to remind children to hydrate and provide access to adequate drinking water. That was the case at Equitas Charter Academy before they partnered with Elkay to offer bottle filling stations.
Without access to clean, refreshing water, students often turn to sweetened beverages. These drinks can lead to numerous health issues, such as excess weight gain, tooth decay and a “sugar rush” inevitably followed by a crash. Jimenez says that before the Elkay bottle fillers, her students would routinely bring sweetened sports drinks or chocolate milk, wreaking havoc on their energy levels. “They seemed willing to learn for half the day, but then the next half, they weren’t as focused on learning as they normally would be without the sugary drinks.”
Even when districts ban the sale of sugary beverages in on-site vending machines, many students bring them from home. Either option can be a costly drag on their family’s food budget. That’s where the importance of better access to alternative refreshments at schools comes into play.
For many students, school is a safe haven where they can access basic needs like healthy foods and clean water. When Jiminez realized how poor the school’s water quality was, she worried the drinking water situation was even worse in her students’ homes.
“We are a lower-income community with a high density of older buildings, many of which have infrastructure that has been neglected for years,” she says. “I can't even imagine how much worse the quality is at home, and I am glad they can drink freely here at school.”
Promoting access to free-flowing, refreshing drinking water
The CDC recommends schools “provide access to water fountains, dispensers and hydration stations throughout the school.” That’s exactly what the Elkay bottle filling stations do, and this has been well-received by schools, reports Sklodowski. “On our visits, we find teachers are very open to allowing the students to step out to refill their water bottles, even during class. They understand hydration is necessary for learning.”
Part of ensuring proper hydration is making access easy, so kids don’t have to spend coveted playtime or breaks searching out water sources. Sklodowski says schools have found success making their Elkay bottle fillers widely available on campus — in classrooms, hallways, gyms, cafeterias, playgrounds and anywhere else students or staff congregate.
For schools in search of better, cleaner drinking water solutions, Sklodowski says a variety of funding sources can help cover costs. Potential options include Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, which can be applied to upgrading facilities with well-being features including bottle filling stations; grants from the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act), sponsored by the EPA; and state and county websites that offer additional underwriting opportunities.
In addition, Sklodowski says many parent and community groups are eager to support bottle fillers. They often use fundraising efforts to defray the cost through Elkay’s ezWish Kit program, which helps schools access the filtered ezH2O bottle filling stations.
Today, Jimenez is charmed by the growing number of students proudly carrying around their refillable water bottles, many of which have been personalized with stickers. “I'm delighted they can access cleaner water here on campus, where they spend the majority of their day,” she says.
Could your students benefit from better hydration and easy access to clean, healthy water? Visit Elkay for more information on how your district can upgrade its drinking water today.