Schools in Ava, MO have made major moves to make water first for thirst district-wide, from including strong language in their wellness policy to installing water bottle fillers at every school in the district.
Support from the Missouri Foundation for Health’s Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities program enabled Ava School District R-1 to install eight filling stations last January in high-traffic locations.
Water access improvement was complemented with strong language in the district’s wellness policy. Water has its own section in the policy, affirming support for the National School Lunch Program standard, as well as mandating that water is allowed in classrooms, provided it is in a “clear, capped container.” This year, the district used wellness policy-compliant water bottles as an incentive for students to return back-to-school paperwork. They were thoughtful in selecting the bottles to distribute, ensuring that they fit well on desks and into cubbies at facilities throughout the district. Beyond access to water during the school day, the wellness policy also includes a provision requiring that water must be sold at a lower price than other beverages at concession stands, making the healthy choice the easy, affordable choice. “It’s so helpful to have things in black and white,” said Ann Leonard, wellness coordinator at Ava Elementary School.
The district also works to promote water and educate staff, students, and their families about its many benefits. Prominent high school athletes are used as “water champions.” They are featured on promotional posters and read water tips on school announcements throughout the district. Food service staff are contributing to the effort by providing fruit infused and plain water in the cafeteria. A series of staff wellness challenges have focused on water, an integral step in getting staff buy-in before bottle fillers were installed.
The focus on water extends to Ava sports programs as well. Coaches educate their players about the importance of water for performance and bottle filling stations are conveniently located outside school gyms, making it easy for coaches and students to choose water.
Ava Schools has gone beyond making water first for thirst, they have truly made “winning with water” easy throughout the district! And now, one school has been nationally recognized for its efforts. Ava Elementary School was one of only 323 schools nationwide to be named to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2017 list of America’s Healthiest Schools, in part because of their strong focus on water accessibility for students throughout the day. Way to go, Ava!