Fourth-grade teacher Coleen Mason and student Austin Welter, 9, test...

Fourth-grade teacher Coleen Mason and student Austin Welter, 9, test out a new water fountain that lets student fill reusable bottles at Holbrook Road Elementary School in Centereach. Credit: Coleen Mason

When Coleen Mason’s fourth-grade class at Holbrook Road Elementary School in Centereach was reading a piece in Storyworks magazine about the number of plastic bottles slated to be recycled that instead wind up in a landfill anyway, she didn’t expect it to set off a chain of events that led to new water fountains for the Middle Country School District’s 10 elementary schools.

But that’s what happened after her students took up the cause and wrote letters to the district superintendent asking for water fountains in their school that would allow students to easily fill reusable bottles. Local politicians heeded the students’ plea.

“The stars kind of aligned,” says Doug Smith, a New York State assembly member. He and fellow Assemb. Steven Englebright provided the grants that allowed the district to purchase 30 water fountains, which cost $31,000, says Roberta Gerold, Middle Country superintendent.

“That’s the kind of project I was looking for, something unique that you could do that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” Smith says. “It’s a very teachable moment. Kids advocated to get something they wanted, and they were successful.”

All the water fountains will be installed before school starts in September, says district facilities director Frank Fiorino. The middle and high schools in the district already have such fountains, he says.

Says Austin Welter, 9: “I feel very good about it, because we worked very hard.”