Presenting a Yucky Truth, By Winston Ross
NORTH BEND – Kyleray Katherman had a feeling the drinking fountains at his school were “gross.” But it wasn’t until he applied a little science to the spigots that he discovered just how right he was.
For an English assignment, Katherman tested the bacteria content at four North Bend Middle School water fountains and one toilet to challenge a four-year-old policy that banned students from bringing bottled water into class (some were sneaking in alcohol that way).
This assignment was pure English, but Katherman, 13, used what he’d learned in science class about growing bacteria to inform his presentation. When he needed help, he marched into a campus lab to get it.
The project was simple: Armed with a Q-tip and a petri dish, Katherman swabbed the spigots of four drinking fountains and one toilet, dunking the cotton in the bowl’s center and then dragging it around the rim so he’d get a complete sample.
Then he took the results back to the lab and shone a light on the dish to speed up the bacteria’s growth, via photosynthesis.
Each of the drinking fountain samples resulted in petri dishes swimming with bacteria. The toilet sample, by comparison, turned out mouth-wateringly clean, likely because it’s doused with cleansing chemicals daily. Before revealing where each sample came from, he asked his classmates which water they’d prefer to drink.
They chose the toilet.
“I wanted to see the looks on their faces,” Katherman said.
Katherman’s presentation also explained the importance of drinking water to the brain’s function, and recommendations that students drink between eight and 12 8-ounce glasses each day. Either bring back the water bottles, Katherman urged, or install “down-pour” systems, the kind used in office water coolers. His classmates voted that Katherman take his message to the school’s site council, which advised him to take his presentation to the next North Bend School Board meeting.
It didn’t take long for the eye-opening PowerPoint to bring about change. Administrators quickly replaced the spigots and casing at three of the water fountains Katherman had tested, and custodians gave them all a thorough cleaning. There’s no plan on reversing the bottle ban but more teachers are providing water in their classrooms, Katherman said.
“The kids got to see that, yes, they can make a difference, if they do it right,” Becker said.
You might keep that in mind the next time you consider drinking from a public fountain…