The American Heart Association is taking on a newer issue in Alabama and Tennessee - water access. When you hear this, Kim and I are sure you're asking yourself, "What does water access mean to the AHA and why is it important to the organization?". And we get it. Many advocates are accustomed to us working on issues like smoke-free air, PE in schools, and Telecommunicator CPR. That's why we decided to host a Water Access 101 call on December 5th for You're the Cure advocates in Alabama and Tennessee.
Special thanks to our guest speakers for their insights: Erica Phung, State and Community Advocacy Manager for Voices for Healthy Kids, Jada Shaffer, Alabama Government Relations Director for AHA, and Leanne Durm-Minoux, Tennessee Government Relations Director for AHA.
In case you missed the call, or didn't take notes, this recap is for you!
Water plays an important role in maintaining a child’s overall health and can positively impact a child's cognitive performance, visual attention and fine motor skills. Yet, kids are not getting the water they need. A national survey of children ages 6-19 found that more than half of U.S. children were inadequately hydrated. Learn more here!
The AHA is supporting policy action to get laws passed that give kids that access to water back, particularly at school. As schools are modernized, or new schools are built or fixed up, we're asking that they include things like water bottle filling stations and drinking fountains, so kids have access to water throughout the school day. We also are asking that students be allowed to carry water bottles. In many cases, schools and school districts have policies that kids cannot bring their own water bottles from home.
We've seen exciting policy work! Kentucky became the first state in the U.S. to allow students to have access to water bottle filling stations. They passed a law that every school that is getting modernized or built must have one water bottle filling station for every 75 students, so kids have access throughout the school day. Recently, advocates in Little Rock, Arkansas got a policy passed for water bottle filling stations in schools. They also worked with Delta Dental and other folks to get water bottle filling stations donated. Amazing! And they also passed a policy that students are allowed to bring empty water bottles to school. Now, students can bring an empty water bottle to school, fill it with water, and stay hydrated throughout the day. They can drink water at lunch, at recess, on break, at PE class - and it will be very helpful to their health.
We're very excited about these policy successes and are thrilled that we have opportunities to work on water access in Alabama and Tennessee.
In Alabama, the AHA will pursue policy to ensure newly built, or renovated, schools will have water bottle filling stations. At this time, the organization is exploring passing the policy through the State Board of Education and cannot share a timeline of when we would expect a vote to happen. If we hit a road block with the Board of Education, we will file a bill for the 2020 legislative session. Should we go that route, it's important to know that session is expected to run from February 4th - May 19th and we'll heavily message the You're the Cure network for help during this period.
In the meantime, we ask Alabama advocates to sign our Water Access pledge for Alabama and encourage your family and friends to sign it, too! By taking the pledge, you'll receive the latest emails about this campaign. Moving forward, we will need help to identify people to speak to the media and/or decision makers about the issue, e.g. parents, students, coaches, PTA/PTO, sports organizations. We also will need you to develop relationships with the Board of Education or your state legislators (depending on which policy route we take - stay tuned).
In Tennessee, the AHA plans to introduce a bill during the 2020 legislative session that would ensure newly built, or renovated, schools have water bottle filling stations. We've been in communications with the Department of Education and Department of Health and do not see any barriers at this time. Session is expected to start on January 14th and run through April 22nd and we anticipate heavily messaging the You're the Cure network during this period.
In the meantime, we ask Tennessee advocates to sign our Water Access pledge for Tennessee and ask family and friends to sign it, too. By taking the pledge, you'll receive the latest emails about this campaign. Moving forward, we need your help to identify spokespeople across the state, such as PTA/PTO. We will work closely with superintendents across the state, as well as TAHPERD. If you know a member of those organizations, we are in the relationship building stage. Lastly, we want to help you build connections with state lawmakers. We'd love for you to have relationships with your lawmakers before we need their help to improve water access for students in Tennessee. If interested, reach out to Kim.Chidester@heart.org to discuss the best ways to become involved.
Advocacy opportunities around water access will increase over the next several months. Stay tuned for future You're the Cure alerts on how you can help!
Julie Howell and Kim Chidester are Grassroots Managers for the American Heart Association's Southeast Region. They work closely with the Government Relations Team to engage volunteers in the organization's public policy efforts. Julie works in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, and Kim works in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Together, they make the #SoutheastDreamTeam for grassroots.