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Each week, the School Health Savvy blog provides information, resources, and thought-provoking ideas and solutions to support healthy students and healthy school communities.
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This week, a total of 78 honorees—64 schools and 14 districts—from 29 States and the District of Columbia, were recognized for their exemplary work in the area of green, high performance school facilities. On hand to congratulate the honorees was NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who provided remarks to the many of educators, students, and green schools professionals who attended a reception honoring the 2013 GRS recipients.
President Van Roekel, along with NEA Executive Committee Member Christy Levings, reinforced NEA’s support for the GRS program at the reception sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. While only in its second year, the GRS Program is paving the way for increased access to green schools for every student. Green, high performance schools offer a healthy, safe environment as well as one that promotes environmental literacy and stewardship.
To learn more about the Department of Education’s GRS Program, visit www2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbon-schools/index.html. To learn how you can participate in a local community green schools service project, go to the USGBC’s Green Apple Day of Service website at www.mygreenapple.org/dayofservice.
Topics: Building Safety, Earth Day, Green Schools, High Performance School, Indoor Environmental Quality
Earth Day is April 22—and every year, this is an opportunity to renew our commitment to a safer and healthier world for our children. NEA HIN believes that all of us have a role and a responsibility to help teach children on how and why we should protect the environment.
While there are many resources available to teach kids about the earth, one worth noting is the Eco Boys and Girls® lesson plans and activities series. Prepared by Maria Snyder Inc., and endorsed by Friends of the United Nations, the Eco Boys and Girls® curriculum focuses on educating students in grades PreK-3 about the value of respecting the environment by protecting natural resources and respecting all living things on earth.
The curriculum centers around a team of characters called “Eco Boys and Girls®” whose mission focuses on caring for the earth and each other.
The “Eco Boys and Girls®” team includes:
To learn more about Eco Boys and Girls® visit http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/39179.htm.
Other PreK-12 lesson plans can be found at:
This Earth Day, join NEA HIN and the “Eco Boys and Girls®” in celebrating our precious earth and pledging to make every day, earth day! If you are implementing environmental education lesson plans in your classroom, we want to hear from you. Share your experiences and favorite lesson plans with us!
Fifty-four million K-12 students spend every school day in 130,000 public and private schools. These children are more vulnerable to environmental toxins than adults. Yet many children are exposed in school to some combination of contaminated air, polluted drinking water, molds, asbestos, PCBs, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, toxic cleaning solutions, pesticides, and other environmental toxins. Seven million teachers and other school employees also are exposed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established to assure safe working environments for adults. However, no such agency has been similarly charged to assure safe school environments for children; and no data are collected to assess the extent to which children are exposed to toxins in schools.
U.S. schools are in such disrepair that one analysis suggested it would cost $270 billion just to bring our schools back to their original conditions, and twice that to bring them up-to-date. Any effort to renovate schools should maintain some focus on reducing toxins in schools.
Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Inspector General concluded that, largely due to budget cuts, EPA is not doing what it could to help reduce environmental toxins in schools. Helpfully, EPA has issued voluntary State School Environmental Health Guidelines; and the Healthy Schools Network along with the Coalition for Healthier Schools has issued Towards Healthy Schools 2015, a state-by-state assessment of America’s environmental health crisis for children. NEA Health Information Network (NEA HIN) Executive Director Jerry Newberry supported this report, “NEA HIN’s teachers and education support professionals understand the connection between a healthy school and academic achievement. By working together, we can make the changes needed to make every school a safe and healthy place for both students and staff.”
What can you do to help reduce toxins in your school? For the past 10 years the Healthy Schools Network in collaboration with EPA has sponsored National Healthy Schools Day; held this year on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Go to the National Healthy Schools Day Website to learn what others are doing—and what you can do—to reduce toxins in schools. You can make a difference!
Dr. Lloyd Kolbe is a member of the NEA HIN Board of Directors.
School celebrations for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and birthdays often involve sharing treats, such as cookies, cakes, and candy. Teachers and parents of children with food allergies must take special care to ensure that all students are safe and that food allergy reactions are prevented.
This Valentine’s Day, take steps to protect children with food allergies.
Teachers and Paraprofessionals
To learn more about food allergies in the school environment read NEA HIN’s Food Allergy Book: What School Employees Need to Know.
In your mind’s eye, picture three students getting ready to leave for school in the morning—maybe cramming last minute for an upcoming exam. Each one attends a different school, but the situations are all pretty much the same. Imagine them arriving and mingling with classmates before the bell. As each student looks around, what will she see? What does he hear? What do their school buildings look like and how old are they? Have they been freshly painted? Ever painted? What do the roofs look like? Is there construction going on nearby? What do you see in your mind’s eye?
If you pictured a rundown building in desperate need of repairs, you’re probably right. The reality is that one of the three students you pictured is about to attend a school that is crumbling. A crumbling school is just what it sounds like –a school that is literally falling apart.
Today, more than 14 million children attend classes in deteriorating facilities; the average U.S. public school is over 40 years old. In the worst of them, sewage backs up into halls and classrooms, rain pours through leaky roofs and ruins computers and books, and sinks hang off the walls in the bathrooms.
“The message these kids get when they look up and see their classroom ceiling leaking and falling in is, ‘I don’t matter’,” said Lily Eskelsen, Vice-President of the NEA. “How can we expect students to achieve in this environment? Given that 35% of America’s schools have similar conditions, this is a national crisis. We need to repair our public schools to keep our children healthy and allow them to learn.”
A recent article in Parade magazine reported that children who attend schools that are in subpar condition score up to 10 percentile points lower on standardized tests, even after controlling for poverty. Schools with poor infrastructure often get too hot or too cold, and can exhibit other distracting conditions that make them unpleasant and uncomfortable places in which to study, learn, and teach.
At least a third of America’s 80,000 public schools are in need of extensive repair and at least two-thirds have unhealthy environmental conditions. There is no question that the job of transforming America’s unhealthy school buildings into clean and safe places in which to teach and learn is an enormous task, but it is an urgent one, as well. We must have a public school system that inspires students and educators alike to perform at their very best.
In coordination with the Center for Green Schools, located at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), NEA and NEA HIN are supporting the Green Apple Day of Service. The Green Apple Day of Service will be held on Saturday, September 29th, to unite those who are committed to making our schools healthier and safer. On that day, advocates from across the country and around the world will come together in support of healthy, sustainable schools by taking real action in their communities. This summer, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, a member of the U.S. Green Building Council Advisory Board, called on NEA members to get involved and to help make a difference by participating in Green Apple Day of Service.
What is the Green Apple Day of Service?
Here are some other ways that you can get involved with this effort.
Through our collective efforts on Sept. 29, we have the ability to create spaces that eliminate toxins and allergens in the atmosphere and maximize fresh air that helps to reduce asthma and other common ailments in children. We can fix temperature and noise issues and optimize daylight, thus enhancing students’ comfort and their ability to concentrate. We can all come together to support environments that improve students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach, while at the same time bettering our surrounding communities.
Students and schools need our help. Learn about the issues. Get Involved. Make real change.
I just served as a juror in the 2012 School of the Future Design Competition that took place here at NEA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This competition is held annually, and brings together six winning teams of middle school students who have passed through district, chapter, state and regional juries to get to the final stage at the national level. The competition is held during School Building Week and is sponsored by the Council of Education Facility Planners International.
The national “jury” is made up of 26 folks from around the U.S. who judge the competition. Each of the six middle school teams that won at the regional level has built a model “future school,” presents it to the jury, and explains the model, itself, and the process of constructing it. Most teams had met together after school every day for months as well as on Saturdays. There were moments during the day when many of the jurors were crying—awed and amazed by the complex knowledge and skills that these middle school students had learned and were able to share in front of an audience made up of the jurors and other competition attendees.
It is difficult to describe the level of creative thought and detail that these young people, 12-14 years old, put into their designs. For example, one of the regional teams heated its model school with both thermal and solar heat. Another team built a model school for a community in Africa. In that design, the team planned for a permanent school as well as for a small school that could be assembled and disassembled for a wandering tribe. The construction made heavy use of plastic bottles readily found in the local African communities.
Yet another group of students came from a community in Texas that is extremely poor. Several years ago, a foundation and several wealthy individuals pooled their funds and built a school for students in that community. In 2009, students from the school competed in this event, but their work was not of high quality. Just four years later, here they were at the national competition, and the students were nothing less than amazing! They began their presentation by walking around the table…shaking the hands of every juror…and looking each of us in the eyes. During the presentation each of the four students shared equally in the delivery, and you knew, absolutely, that each them would be highly successful in life.
Yes…that was the most surprising and wonderful part of watching each of the six regional teams. You could tell that these students’ lives had forever been changed. By taking on a challenge; by working with clearly gifted teachers; by engaging with architects, facility planners and other mentors from their communities; and by focusing on what they could accomplish if they used their very best efforts, these students were able to tap into and develop their hidden gifts and talents and truly shine.
It makes me wonder how the process of education in America might be impacted if this type of instruction could be at the core of student learning!
When people find out that I work in the field of child nutrition, the first response is usually a memory from school lunch. Most recall favorite foods or the ladies in the cafeteria who always knew their name. However, I never hear any stories about school breakfast. Growing up, my dad was the breakfast chef in the house. Across the kitchen counter, we caught up, talked about the day ahead and decided that an egg sandwich with ketchup made in a cast iron skillet was the best breakfast ever.
Having that quiet time before going to school helped set the tone for the day. I now have the opportunity, with a lot of help, to help thousands of children have a similar start to their day. Moving school breakfast into the classroom is a great way to start the day. Students share a meal with their peers and teacher and begin the school day together. Coordinating this dance every morning takes teamwork, commitment and patience. With the support of teachers and all of the school staff, principals, school administrators, parents, the community and child nutrition professionals (truly a village), it works. With the shared goal of helping children achieve, moving breakfast into the classroom can create stronger communities in the classroom, school and beyond.
As I mentioned, I have a lot of help to encourage more schools to move breakfast into the classroom. Working with NEA HIN, and the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, we are making a difference one classroom at a time. When I have days where nothing is going right, I check out the Beyond Breakfast blog and read through the success stories. It helps put things in perspective. Perhaps the intersection of education and food starts with breakfast in the classroom.
Topics: Cleaning for Health, High Performance School, Indoor Air Quality, Indoor Environmental Quality
Recently, I took a trip back in time. I drove 3 hours (my DeLorean was up to task) to Reading, Pennsylvania where I, along with NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen, visited Southern Middle School.
Southern Middle, like so many other schools across the country, is falling apart….literally. Over 90 years old, Southern Middle School is feeling its age. Crumbling paint falling from its walls, floors that have buckled under the swell of water damage, a heating system that leaves 6th floor classrooms at 80 degrees in the middle of winter WITH THE WINDOWS WIDE OPEN, and broken water fountains preventing students from rehydrating after sitting in these extreme conditions.
Lily and I spoke with one of the most dedicated group of teachers and support staff that I have met. They are totally committed to the children of the Reading community and their one wish is that their school, built as a beautiful model in the 1920s, could be retrofitted to support great teaching and learning.
“The message these kids get when they look up and see their classroom ceiling leaking and falling in is, ‘I don’t matter,’” says Eskelsen. “How can we expect students to achieve in this environment? Given that 35% of America’s schools have similar conditions, this is a national crisis. We need to repair our public schools to keep our children healthy and allow them to learn.”
Stepping into Southern Middle School was like taking a trip back in time. I recognized everything from the type of construction to the refreshing resolve of the faculty, staff, and students. We need your help in re-writing the future!
Here are 3 things you can do:
As we enter National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), I can't help but think how far we've come in my lifetime to secure immunization against once insurmountable plagues of disease. We live in a time now when germs from China or Africa arrive in the US in a matter of hours. In our grandfathers time, the biggest worry was what illness was in the next town or county.
In the 1950s, nearly every child developed measles. Unfortunately, some even died from this disease. My own brother developed mumps in 1957 and was left sterile as a result. Today, however, few physicians just out of medical school will ever see a case of measles during their careers. This is due to the wide use of the standard recommended MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine for children. In March 2005, CDC announced that rubella is no longer a major health threat to expectant mothers and their unborn children, thanks to a safe and effective MMR vaccine and high vaccine coverage.
In my youth, it would have been unbelievable to imagine a day when these infectious disease would be eradicated. Vaccinations are quite a luxury that we take for granted today.
I began first grade in 1953 in a rural Virginia village with seven fellow students. Jo Ellen was one of those seven. Jo Ellen developed polio the previous year and was only able to walk with braces and two crutches. In that time, parents kept young children on their farms because there was no protection available to them – no vaccine existed. When the first oral polio immunization became available in 1955, my mother took my three brothers and me to our church for the inoculation. I also remember standing in line in my rural Virginia elementary school for the one or two other immunizations that were available.
In the 2010 California outbreak of whooping cough, 8,000 cases were reported in the state with ten infant deaths. Additionally, measles takes the lives of more than 100,000 children globally each year. Thanks to immunization, we can now protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age two. However, they must receive the vaccines to receive that protection!
In September 2010, CDC announced that childhood immunization rates for vaccines routinely recommended for children remain at or near record highs. Perhaps we can find a day when our children can look back in amazement, for the number of diseases that have been eradicated in their lifetime.
If you have questions or concerns regarding childhood vaccination, please refer to the Talking About Childhood Vaccine brochure, and be sure to consult with your doctor.
For more information on activities happening around the country in celebration of NIIW, please CDC's NIWW page.
For the past three years, I have been lucky enough to serve as a juror for the Council of Educational Facility Planners International’s (CEFPI) School of the Future Design Competition. To be honest, the first time I was asked to serve as a juror I was hesitant to participate. My busy schedule left me anxious and worried that I couldn’t devote the time required.
To participate in this competition, middle school students are tasked with designing a school of the future. This endeavor requires a combination of skills and areas of study including art, creativity, architecture, strategic planning, and most importantly, teamwork. Throughout the school year, teams met regularly to create 3-D designs and written narrative descriptions of their ideal school. In their designs, they address many issues including daylighting, indoor environmental quality, water conservation, and how the school can be used as a teaching tool.
I will never forget my first year as a juror. After the first team’s 45 minute presentation I thought…I know who the winner is going to be. They were GREAT but boy was I wrong. As the presentations continued my job as a juror became harder and harder. By the fourth presentation, I was utterly confused and a little stressed about who should take home the honors.
After the presentations concluded, I left feeling uplifted and incredibly hopeful. I left inspired knowing that the next generation of youth is equipped with the skills to leave the world a better place for everyone.