The Namaste Way: Keeping Students’ Heads Above Water

March 17, 2015

Addressing student health needs takes many shapes and sizes.

Namaste Charter School on Chicago’s southwest side embodies so many of the issues that are important to creating and maintaining a healthy school environment, including healthy school food, regular physical activity and parent engagement. A visit to the school is a visit to a world where students get the nutrition, activity and support they need to succeed — in school and in life — and it works! During the next several weeks, we’ll take a deep dive into some of Namaste’s successes with getting students to eat unflavored yogurt and drink plenty of water, ongoing professional development for staff and engaging parents. Click here to see all of the posts in the series.

Addressing student health needs takes many shapes and sizes: from offering nutritious meals to providing access to school health services. But some of the strategies for supporting healthy students can literally fit in your hand — like a bottle of water.

We all know that kids — and adults — need water. But in school, allowing each student in a classroom of 20 or even 30 kids to leave the class to get a drink from a water fountain when they’re thirsty can take up valuable instruction time and lead to discipline problems. It’s an issue that all schools face, but few address head on. The USDA tried to address this issue in the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act by requiring schools to provide water to all students during lunch and breakfast (if offered), but access to water is more than just a mealtime issue.

Chicago’s Namaste Charter School has found a simple solution to that problem. Instead of relying on children to decide when they’re thirsty and leave the classroom to get water from a traditional drinking fountain, each child may bring his or her own water bottle to school every day. The class then takes periodic breaks together so the children can fill their water bottles from water fountains and coolers that are located throughout the school — without missing instruction time.

Founder and executive director Allison Slade says this allows students to get the water they need. “The practical issue with student dehydration is not necessarily about water, it’s about access,” says Slade.

Encouraging students to have water bottles helps them drink more water throughout the day and lets them keep track of how much water they’re drinking, Slade says. In the past, Namaste has gotten grants or raised funds to give students water bottles. The school’s Parent Teacher Association also sells Namaste branded water bottles.

And research backs up this method. A study conducted in Germany with elementary school aged children found when each child was given a water bottle — and time to fill it up each morning — water consumption increased 1.1 glasses per day compared to a group of students not given water bottles. The risk of being overweight was reduced by 31% in the students that were given water bottles.

Not only does more water help students stay healthy, it also improves their ability to learn. Research shows children who drink more water are better learners. In a 2009 study, children ages 7-9 were split into two groups: one that received water and one that did not. The children who drank water performed better on visual recognition and memory tasks.

Because Namaste is so focused on student health and wellness, it was able to look at the traditional problem of water access through a new lens. Encouraging students to have water bottles is a simple but effective strategy for keeping kids hydrated, in the class and — in the end — healthy and ready to learn.