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Water helps quench thirst for knowledge

February 23, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Students in a classroom at Hagerstown's Eastern Elementary School don't have to go far if they get thirsty. They just reach for small bottles of water on their desks.

The bottles are part of a push in classrooms around the world to give students easier access to water following studies suggesting people can learn better if they are properly hydrated, Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said Sunday.

In October, teacher Sabrina Lee told students in her third-grade class that drinking water on a regular basis may help their education, she said Thursday.

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"Hopefully, this will help our brains," she said she told them. "Let us give it a shot."

She paid for the plastic bottles, and refills them with tap water, she said.

Lee said she heard about the idea at the New Teacher Academy, attended by new teachers in August.

Tiffany Tresler, who also teachers third grade at Eastern and attended the academy, said she provides students in her class with cups of water for the same reason.

There have been no problems resulting from students drinking from cups and bottles instead of from water fountains, Tresler and Lee said.

While the reading levels of some of Tresler's students improved from third grade to fourth grade during the school year, it is hard to say whether the improvements can be attributed to the increased focus on hydration or to other factors, Tresler said.

Aili Pogust, an educational consultant who works with the school system, said she recommends instructors ensure students are getting enough water, especially when working intensely on a project.

"I think it is essential, particularly when we are in a stressful world," Pogust said.

Mowen said it is up to each teacher whether to provide cups or bottles of water.

Increasing the emphasis on water is one of several practices teachers are trying to improve students' ability to learn, she said.

There has long been an understanding that children's nutrition plays an important role in their ability to learn, which is one reason why schools offer free and reduced-priced meals to students, Mowen said.

In recent years, there has been much discussion in educational circles not only about how nutrition affects students' ability to learn, but also about the importance of making sure they get enough water, Mowen said.

"We should be encouraging teachers to make classrooms as viable and as pleasant an environment as we can," schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "Keeping kids hydrated can make a difference in their brain power.

"If we could afford it, every classroom would have many more amenities, such as electronic note pads, Palm Pilots for every student, laptops ... and a host of things that would create access and options for students and teachers," Morgan said. "Water is a small but important amenity."

The school system started selling bottled water in vending machines at secondary schools about two years ago in response to students' requests, Gary Dodds, the food service supervisor for the system, said Thursday. Water bottles account for about 20 percent of the sale of beverages in the schools, he said.

Dodds said he has been following international discussion about encouraging students to drink more water.

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