Green and Healthy Schools

Do “green” schools positively impact students’ achievement and teacher performance? Common sense says “yes.” Recent studies now pinpoint the factors that make the difference, according to Vivian Loftness, Professor at Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.

I learned so much yesterday at the “Green and Healthy Schools Conference,” held at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, one of Pittsburgh’s hidden gems, showcased last year by Barack Obama’s G-20. This was my second year attending this amazing conference, co-sponsored by the Green Building Alliance. In case you didn’t know, Pittsburgh is a national leader in “greening” old buildings. That’s one of the reasons I love living here.
What is a “green School” anyway? Many people think it is one that is energy efficient. Well, that is only one of its attributes. Green schools also save water and waste, are toxin-free, and connect interiors with the outdoors.
How do we measure whether greening a school environment is worth it? The following  are considered meaningful outcomes:
• Increases in students’ test scores, as well as teachers’ productivity and retention.
• Decreases in teacher and pupil absenteeism and the number of asthma emergencies
Green Schools are:
Dry and stay dry – Excess moisture, including condensation on machinery, grows mold, which causes sickness. One of the first cases of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) I ever saw was in a girl attending kindergarten in a moldy church basement.  As soon as she changed schools, she no longer fit that label.  See my article on that subject. Ultra-violet light and sunshine reduce mold growth.
Comfortable temperatures – Doesn’t letting light and sun in create glare and over-heating? “Dress” your school as you would yourself, according to season, suggests Loftness. Shutter and shade them in hot months and filter them in winter. Choosing proper materials for the roof and walls also helps control the thermostat.
Well-ventilated – Which has better quality, indoor air or outdoor air? You may be surprised that “fresh” air from the outdoors wins hands down. Study after study says, “Open the windows!” Naturally ventilated classrooms outperform mechanically ventilated ones because heating and air-conditioning systems are chronically under-maintained. As carbon dioxide levels raise, performance drops.
Quiet – Ambient noise is a problem, especially for our youngest students who are just learning speech and language. Noise from the street (cars, trucks, sirens, trains), air (planes), machinery (heaters, projectors), and adjacent spaces, interferes with learning. One study showed a 21% increase in productivity by decreasing noise.
Clean – Good, “green” cleaning matters. No-touch faucets, doorways and spraying keyboards, desktops, toys and other shared spaces reduces sickness. So do non-toxic products made with vinegar, tea tree oil and baking soda.
Well-maintained – On-going maintenance of the building structure is critical. The poorer the maintenance, the higher the drop-out rate for students and teachers. Obviously, no one at the top cares, why should they!
Surprisingly, lighting is not one of the crucial factors. Why? Because most schools are well-lit, according to Loftness. Performance does change, however, using different types of lights. Robin Mumford’s lamps have been shown to increase reading performance in young children.
What can YOU do to “green” your school and make it healthier for your students?
• Start a “green” committee
• Get students involved by making your school a “living laboratory” with projects such as a “rain garden” built into the curriculum
• Switch to integrated pest management and non-toxic cleaning materials
• Maintain your building with “green” products
• Read Greening Our Built World by Greg Kats
Have fun being “green,” and let me know what you are doing!

One Response to “Green and Healthy Schools”

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