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Sitting at lunch drinking a glass of water from the nearby water fountain, Alyssa Gerhart, a fifth-grader at William B. Wade Elementary School, got an idea to try to get bottled water listed as an option on the school lunch menu.

Alyssa, 11, is looking for a little support via a petition and writing to government officials to push her idea up the chain to make a change.

Alyssa started a petition at the Waldorf elementary school with support from school administration.

Currently, bottled water is not offered at the elementary school level.

Secondary schools in the system have bottled water a la cart for $1.25.

Alyssa said bottled water should be an option like milk and juice because, according to her online petition, “It is another choice for kids to enjoy with it being the healthiest drink there is.” Water is an option that does not have sugars like milk and juice that are currently on the menu, she said.

Alyssa is not looking to replace juice or milk, but only to add water as an option.

Bill Kreuter, supervisor of food services for the school system, said while he applauds Alyssa’s efforts, offering bottled water as a school lunch option cannot be done since it is not part of the National School Lunch Program, a federally funded program to provide meals in schools.

Water, Kreuter said, is not one of the five components of the program.

Those components are fruits, vegetables, grain, milk, and meat or meat alternative.

Kreuter said while water is not considered part of the school meal, it is made available to students.

Water is available to all students at meal times free of charge either from a pitcher of tap water in the cafeteria or a water fountain in or adjacent to the cafeteria.

Requiring the availability of potable water was part of the Healthier Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

While it is required that water be available, it is not part of the reimbursable meal, and students are not required to take it.

Alyssa said she does choose to drink water at lunch and fills up a cup from the water fountain at lunch time. But she said it isn’t as convenient as selecting a bottle of water when she goes through the lunch line, and she is concerned about the germs on the fountain. She also argued that bottled water has a better taste than water from a fountain.

Through research, she said she understands there are rules and regulations when it comes to school lunches.

She has drafted a letter to first lady Michelle Obama and is looking to correspond with U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to help with her efforts to make a change to the lunch menu.

Alyssa said she wrote to the first lady because Obama has been promoting healthy choices, and “she is one of the most powerful women in the world in my eyes.”

She has about 500 signatures on a petition, which include 20 signatures from an online petition she started. The original petition started at her school, and she took it to two other elementary schools in the area and to local businesses.

She said the majority of people she talked with were for the idea, and a few were against it.

She said those against the change argued that it is perfectly safe to drink tap water.

Alyssa said as part of her research she learned that many people agree that tap water is safe while others argue that there are germs and medicines in tap water that are not safe.

The other con with bottled water offered in school, she said, dealt with recycling and how schools would have a lot of plastic bottles distributed and not everyone would recycle.

“I think it should be mandatory that everyone should recycle, but I don’t think it is,” Alyssa said.

Students are allowed to bring bottled water to school, Kreuter said, and Alyssa said she understands that is an option, but she would still like to pursue the menu change.

She understands there are costs involved in what she is asking for but feels it is worth the cost to have the healthy beverage on the menu.

Kreuter said bottled water would run the school system about 70 cents a bottle to purchase.

Alyssa said of her journey, which began last month, that she does get frustrated hearing people say they don’t want the change, but “we try to keep moving on.”

Alyssa said she is getting a lot of support, and her mother, Deanna Gerhart, said she was impressed at all the work her daughter is putting into this change.

Alyssa is scheduled to present her idea before the Charles County Board of Education on June 10 during the public forum portion of the meeting.

gphillips@somdnews.com