Where: Palermo, CA and Oroville, CA

Problem: Palermo Union Elementary School District (PUESD) was struggling with very limited access to drinking water on some of its campuses. Drinking fountains were in disrepair, many were unappealing, and students did not regularly utilize them.

Solution: RCAC first connected with PUESD through the USDA Community Facilities Disaster Relief funding program in 2020. Sarah Bixler was the school district’s technical assistance provider at the time, working with PUESD to apply for funding for portable electric bus charging stations. After the completion of that project, Sarah approached PUESD about applying for funding from the Chris Long Foundation to address the drinking water access impairments that many of its campuses were experiencing. The school district was interested in the opportunity. Carlos Aguilar, PUESD’s Director of Maintenance, Operations and Transportation, shared, “The RCAC team has been great to work with. They were the ones to initiate the conversation about the Chris Long Foundation with us. I appreciate their goal of improving communities through a variety of programs. Each team member I have worked with is knowledgeable and excited about helping.”

RCAC received a subgrant of $50,000 from RCAP awarded by the Chris Long Foundation’s Water Boys Initiative and Liquid IV to install 7 new drinking fountains and bottle filling stations on four PUESD campuses: Golden Hills Elementary School, Helen Wilcox Elementary School, Palermo Middle School, and Honcut Elementary School. With Hazel Critchfield as the technical assistance provider, the Chris Long Foundation project launched in February 2022 and concluded at the end of February 2023. This grant provided every student and staff member of PUESD with a reusable Nalgene water bottle, which displays the school district and funder logos. Education was an important component of the work as well. Teachers throughout PUESD integrated presentations and written materials into their lessons that were aimed at increasing students’ appreciation for water as the healthiest beverage choice.

RCAC’s Agua4All program has helped schools increase access to safe drinking water since 2014. Technical assistance providers help schools secure funding to upgrade their water access. They also work with a district’s superintendent and facilities staff from start to finish until the work is complete.

Palermo Union ElemPhoto of three people standing next to a water bottle filling station.entary School District serves 1,410 students and employs roughly 200 staff members across 6 schools in Oroville and Palermo, CA. The local economy is powered by agriculture, and the community’s median household income (MHI) is $42,486, which is significantly below California’s overall MHI of $78,672.

The community of Palermo is tight-knit, and the teachers and staff truly care about the environment created for students. “In a low-income community, any help we can get is always appreciated.”, shared Carlos Aguilar. “Our goal from a facilities standpoint is to maintain our facilities to the best of our ability. At times we have financial limitations that prevent us from doing everything we would like to do, so receiving this funding from the Chris Long Foundation has enabled us to not only replace and add new drinking fountains, but we have also been able to provide drinking fountains that are ADA compliant. Palermo is a small town, and the middle school is a major part of community activities so adding these new fountains has greatly improved the usability of each facility both for indoor activities and outdoor.”

In September 2022, RCAC staff paid a visit to Palermo Middle School along with representatives from the Chris Long Foundation and Liquid IV. We had the opportunity to hear directly from teachers, staff, and students about how the new water fountains and bottle filling stations have impacted their health and focus throughout the day. We also noticed the beautiful landscaping, which is done entirely by school district staff. During our visit, we noticed many students carrying their new reusable Nalgene water bottles between classes!

In February 2023, RCAC technical assistance providers returned to Palermo Middle School with members of our Grants and Contracts team, who don’t often have the chance to see our work at schools in person. Together, RCAC staff distributed another batch of reusable Nalgene bottles, along with stickers of Wally the Water Droplet, the Agua4All mascot. Students were also asked to fill out post-program surveys. These were analyzed along with pre-program surveys, which had previously been administered by teachers. RCAC appreciates all who contributed towards the success of this project.