Getting the brainpower flowing

Lindale Middle tries water coolers to keep kids hydrated, hoping for better scores, health, behavior

Education Beat

October 16, 2005|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

George Lindley, the principal of Lindale Middle School, returned from a conference this summer with an unusual idea for improving his school. He would give his pupils more water.

At the conference, the Southern Educational Regional Board in Nashville, Tenn., he had heard a discussion from Laurence Martel, founder of a nonprofit organization called the National Academy of Integrative Learning, which focuses on ways to increase learning capacity. One of the things it considers is the physiology of the learner.

Martel had argued that schools hinder learning because they frequently lack natural light and sufficient access to water. "We have windows in our classroom so I thought the natural light was not a problem, but the water was," Lindale said.

He had a federal Comprehensive School Reform Grant, and he used it to bring water coolers into the classrooms by the second week of school.

Teachers at first raised some concerns about the coolers - Would kids constantly jump up to get drinks? Would they have to go to the bathroom every few minutes? But ultimately, only one or two teachers opted against having water in their classrooms, Lindley said.

Deer Park installed 59 coolers, including ones in the art and music rooms, the main office, the guidance room and the teacher lounge.

"I think different teachers manage it different ways," Lindley said.

Sometimes, kids get drinks when they're first coming into the classroom, before they sit. In other classrooms, they're allowed to get drinks during quiet times, when they are reading or working in groups. With the coolers in the classrooms, kids don't have to go to the hall for a drink.

"I honestly have not seen anything to indicate that that's been a real problem," Lindley said.

Donna Sauer, the Deer Park sales manager for the Baltimore market, said she didn't know of any other school that was providing so many hydration opportunities to students. When she refills the coolers, she can tell that pupils and teachers like the program, she said.

"Everybody there seems to be really excited about having it there," she said.

The problem now is that the federal grant does not, in fact, cover the water coolers, Lindley said. It's meant for after-school programs, teacher conferences and other initiatives. Water in the classrooms isn't considered a school reform, because the school has water fountains, Lindley said.

Lindale has water fountains in the halls, but Lindley doesn't think six fountains are enough for 1,000 children. Kids don't have enough time to drink between classes, he said. And having the water coolers in the classrooms means pupils don't have to ask for permission to go to the hall if they are thirsty.

So he included a notice in the school newsletter, asking for help to pay for the water, which costs about $1,000 a month, or $1 per student.

"Providing water to our students in the classroom increases their receptiveness and ability to learn," the notice said. "Research indicates that our children need 4 to 6 ounces of water each hour in order to be healthy and comfortable. Our program has been in effect for one month now and we are seeing positive results."

He's also looking at other grants that might pay for the coolers. "So far we've had some response, but not really enough," Lindale said.

In Martel's book, The Seven Secrets of Learning Revealed, published in 2003, he writes that proper hydration can improve not only learning, but also behavior and health.

According to his review of medical literature, dehydration doesn't only make students sticky-mouthed and uncomfortable, it impairs learning. Water lubricates brain cells, ensuring they work properly, he said.

"I call it the ergonomics of learning," he said in a phone interview.

"One of the liabilities the modern child is facing is chronic dehydration," he said. And contributing to the problem, he said, are sugary breakfasts, fluorescent lighting and sodas filled with sugar and caffeine.

He said a school in Idaho that put water in classrooms saw a substantial reduction in special education referrals.

Lindley said he hasn't seen specific results at Lindale, but he's tracking office referrals, attendance and visits to the nurse. "Ultimately, our [Maryland School Assessment] scores are what we hope to impact as well," he said. "There's a lot of good research out there to support what we're doing."

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