Expand water access in SF schools 

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 many 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 soda. Want to improve 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 at school.

Poor hydration can result in impaired mental and physical performance, and an altered mood, especially in children. Choosing soda or sugary juice rather than water is also highly connected to increased obesity, diabetes and poor health outcomes.

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 "bottle fillers" in San Francisco schools.

These bottle-filling 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 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 bottle-filling stations have been installed, with dozens more planned for this summer. Unfortunately, the funding doesn't currently exist to expand the bottle-filling 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 bottle-filling stations, including double the number of students drinking from the faucet or station, and double the students bringing a bottle from home.

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.

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 pushing to expand this program to the remaining 60 schools.

This past week, the Budget Committee of the Board of Supervisors advanced this goal in a big way, committing funding .for at least 20 additional schools in the next two years. Additionally, the budget includes another $200,000 for outdoor bottle-filling stations across San Francisco's parks and other public locations.

These investments can help get students "hooked on water," with a significant impact on their options and choices in school and beyond.

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

Eric Mar is a San Francisco supervisor and Matt Haney is a member of the San Francisco Board of Education.

Clarification: This op-ed originally repeatedly referred to water-filling stations as hydration stations. That term is a trademark owned by the Haws Corp., which manufactures the Brita Hydration Station.

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