All four school districts served by the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency (SCVSFSA) will soon have the choice of water during lunchtime thanks to a single question asked by three Rio Vista Elementary School students.
The push to get free, mini water bottles into the district’s cafeterias began more than a year ago when Saugus Union School District Teacher on Special Assignment Samantha Ford gave a lesson about “rethinking your drink” by choosing healthy alternatives to sugary beverages.
“I was at the LA County Office of Education and they had a lesson about rethink your drink and how kids drink about 25 to 33 percent of their daily allowance of calories… which is contributing to our obesity rates in America,” Ford said. “I was showing them that instead of choosing juice, you should choose something that’s lower in calories and lower in sugar. It’s to create an awareness.”
After her lesson, three third grade students approached Ford and asked her, “If there’s so much sugar in juice and milk, why doesn’t the cafeteria serve free water?”
Ford thought it was a valid question and discussed it with her boss, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Isa De Armas. For the next year, De Armas brought up the idea with the SCVSFSA during her regular meetings with the agency.
“It was exciting to know that our students were really paying attention during their PE healthy choices lessons,” Rio Vista Elementary Principal Gina Nolte said. “Some of the students took it seriously and asked a question ‘can we get water for lunch?’”
Nolte, who also serves on the district’s committee for food services, said the question came at the perfect time.
The idea of moving the water bottles from the priced cart to the free cart was something the SCVSFSA and the district had been working on for years. It was also something SCVSFSA was piloting in the Newhall School District.
“It was the students asking questions, our PE teacher pushing for it and our district expressing interest; it was that perfect storm where it all fit together,” Nolte said.
Now, all students at Rio Vista and nearly all students in the Saugus District have the option of drinking water at lunchtime, in addition to fruit juice and milk.
“I think that most of our schools have this now,” Ford said. “They have these little tiny water bottles… It’s a choice, they kids can choose it.”
The plethora water bottles have also encouraged the students to start up a recycling program to fundraise for the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and for field trips.
“It’s been wonderful,” Nolte said. “It’s a win-win. The kids get water, they recycle the bottles, the PTA gets money for the bottles and the students go on field trips.”
And, the addition of water bottles is helping students of all ages make an active choice to cut down on their sugar and caloric consumption.
“I can tell you that there’s more water bottles in the recycling container than the fruit choices that they’ve been drinking so I’m happy about less sugar,” Nolte said.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_