Staying hydrated helps kids learn, so Mariemont gave 'em all water bottles and refilling stations

'We're changing the culture at our school'
This simple substance helps kids learn better
This simple substance helps kids learn better
This simple substance helps kids learn better
This simple substance helps kids learn better
This simple substance helps kids learn better
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-25 12:18:39-04

MARIEMONT, Ohio -- No matter how much protein parents try to pack into their kids' breakfasts before school each day, or how many hours of sleep their little ones are getting each night, many students will still fall prey at times to the pesky, pre-lunch slump.

Ask most classroom teachers and they know the symptoms: Kids can be a little groggy, irritable and even show signs of decreased cognitive functioning.

It turns out, the slump may have less to do with breakfasts and bedtimes and more to do with dehydration.

More than half of the nation's children and adolescents are not getting adequate hydration, according to a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published last year.  And it could be having "significant repercussions" on kids' physical, cognitive and emotional functioning, according to researchers.

Mariemont Junior High School knows the struggle and is tackling the problem head-on with increased access to one of our most basic resources: water.

Aden Lytle fills up his water bottle at a new filling station in the junior high. (Provided by Mariemont City Schools)

The school has rolled out a water wellness initiative that has kids sipping water throughout the school day -- not just between classes at the water fountain or with their meal at lunchtime.

"We're changing the culture at our school," Principal Molly Connaughton said of the new initiative. "There is tons of research that shows the importance of hydration, especially for junior high students. There are health benefits, but there are also secondary benefits. Staying hydrated actually aids your ability to learn."

The school's staff started researching the topic last school year after noticing a bit of a decline in students' academic performance as the mornings progressed before lunch, she said.

The initiative started with a small shift. The school's teachers and administrators went from allowing kids to have water in the classroom to actively encouraging students to drink water throughout the day.

The momentum continued when water bottle refilling stations were installed throughout the school building. Connaughton then reached out to the Mariemont City School District's Warrior Coalition for a little help.

Samantha Bonnell shows off her new water bottle. (Provided by Mariemont City Schools)

The community group purchased reusable water bottles for all 278 seventh- and eighth-graders at the junior high school. With assistance from the school's PTO, the students each received one with their name on it last month on the first day of school.

Supporting the project was an easy decision, according to member Melanie Stutenroth. The Warrior Coalition is a community organization focused on "supporting our families in developing healthy, resilient children," she said.

"Our coalition brings valuable resources and education to our district about health and wellness as well as substance-abuse prevention in youth," Stutenroth added. "Helping to fund this program within the junior high is a perfect use of our funds and further supports the health and wellness of our children."

Eliza Lucas carries water bottles to her classmates. (Provided by Mariemont City Schools)

Water wellness is also being integrated into the school's curriculum. Health and wellness teacher Terri Thomas incorporates a hydration series into her junior high classes. And student groups are tasked with sharing what they learn with their peers and younger students within the school district.

Her students created an awareness campaign illustrating the importance of hydration, including displaying those posters in the junior high as well as the elementary schools.

Thomas said she is already seeing a shift in thinking among the students -- and it's spreading. There are now water bottle refilling stations in all four school buildings within the school district, and in its athletic areas.

Ryan Stahl is happy to have his water bottle on hand during class. (Provided by Mariemont City Schools)

And the junior high school is already seeing the benefits of better hydrated students, Connaughton said.

There's also an added bonus: fewer plastic water bottles in the trash.

The new water bottle refilling stations track the number of plastic water bottles the school has kept out of landfills with the use of more earth-friendly refillable bottles.

"It's exciting to see the number continuously go up," she said. "I love to look into our classrooms and see our kiddos causally sipping water during class. This is something we hope they will carry with them when they leave junior high. It has become the new normal."