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Arizona school district prioritizes water access for students

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Alex Gonzalez

(Arizona News Connection) Two school districts in Arizona are working to improve water access for students. 

Tolleson Elementary and Cartwright Elementary school districts are working with the American Heart Association to prioritize water access and have implemented policies to ensure students can stay hydrated. 

Tolleson Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Lupita Ley Hightower said before the partnership with the AHA, the district had developed creative ways - such as fruit-infused water - to incentivize healthy water consumption and curtail the consumption of sugary beverages. 

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She said the partnership has made her school district healthier and is helping set her students up for success.

"At schools, we want to look at the whole child," said Hightower. "Water is critical. It does positively impact cognitive performance, visual attention, fine motor skills, and then we live in Arizona. You have to be hydrated."

Hightower said the Valley of the Sun United Way has provided support to the initiative by helping provide water-bottle filling stations to the school districts that have made water access a priority. 

Studies show that more than half of U.S. children and adolescents are inadequately hydrated. 

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Dr. Ingrid Haas - president-elect of the American Heart Association, Phoenix, Board of Directors - said the initiative aims to teach young children the importance of drinking water for overall better health and weight at an early stage.

"I think this is a good starting point at a young age to have children understand what is the healthiest way to go," said Haas. "Replacing sugary drinks, sodas, with water and encouraging that - it's a pattern they learn."

Haas said students shouldn't have to wait until break or lunch time to have access to water, but rather be encouraged to drink water throughout the day and carry water bottles. 

The groups are working with districts to update their wellness policies that will support water access long-term.