Earth Week is almost upon us (April 22-26), and the green schools movement continues to grow. Here are the latest activities and some great tips that can help improve the health, resource-efficiency and sustainability learning opportunities in your school from Jenny Wiedower, K-12 Manager, Center for Green Schools, US Green Building Council.
This year, the Center for Green Schools drew attention to the condition of our country’s public school facilities in our 2013 State of our Schools report, released in March. We estimate that it will take approximately $271 billion to bring our nation’s 100,000 PK-12 school buildings up to working order and comply with laws.
Together with dozens of organizations, the Center for Green Schools is calling for an updated survey on the condition of America’s schools. This will provide more detailed and accurate information to direct our efforts to restore, repair and revive our schools, which will help direct our limited dollars to where they are needed most.
NEA and NEA HIN – two of our many partners – agree. "Our job—as educators, as parents and as elected officials—is to remove barriers so that all students can succeed," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "This means investing in the right priorities. Children need and deserve safe and healthy environments so they can learn. It’s not more complicated than that.”
Educator and student resources….You can help raise awareness about the impact that the conditions of school facilities have on student performance and health.
- Join a local Green School Committee,
- Work on the ground to improve community schools through our Green Apple Day of Service,
- Give the gift of our Green Classroom Professional Certificate to a teacher, principal, custodian or educational support staff you know, or
- Connect with your local legislator on these important issues.
We think “11 Ways to Green Your School” is a great place to pick up new ideas for how to engage students, staff, school stakeholders and community members in making fun, action-oriented improvements in your school.
For the college bound….The Center for Green Schools is pleased to announce the release of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2013 Edition. In its fourth year of publication, the guide highlights exceptional institutions of higher learning for their leadership in sustainable operations, sustainability in curriculum and green living on campus. As the only comprehensive and free resource of its kind to the majority of prospective students who say that they are looking for a green college to attend, this is a wonderful resource to share with your high school guidance counselors and high school students alike. More information can be found on The Princeton Review’s website.
And don’t miss….
- The Center for Green Schools on NBC’s TODAY Show on Monday, April 22! TODAY is scheduled to celebrate Earth Day by building six green living walls on Rockefeller Plaza with local students from Bronx public schools. The segment will highlight the Center for Green Schools and our flagship event, the Green Apple Day of Service. Tune in!
- Also, on Monday, April 22, the U.S. Department of Education will announce their 2013 Green Ribbon Schools awardees. USED will be live-streaming the event at 10 am on this website.
- Get free 20-minute-or-less web trainings with all the information you’ll need to make your Green Apple Day of Service activity on September 28, 2013 a success. The first web training will be “Save Water” on Thursday, April 25, tune in, these webcasts will introduce you to project ideas, volunteer recruitment tips, fundraising ideas and more.
- As always, check in with the Center for Green Schools regularly to learn how others are making a difference in their schools and communities and share your story 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.
April 5th is the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As we honor Dr. King’s astonishing legacy and celebrate the civil rights gains that he inspired, the NEA Health Information Network also recognizes that we as a nation have not done enough to ensure that all minority communities have quality access to health and healthcare.
This disparity has received federal attention. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established April as National Minority Health Month to recognize the disproportionate rates of access and achieve health equity.
This year, the theme of National Minority Health Month is, Advance Health Equity Now: Uniting Our Communities to Bring Health Care Coverage to All.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has outlined a clear action plan to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities:
- Transform health care;
- Strengthen the nation’s health and human services infrastructure and workforce;
- Advance health, safety and well-being of the American People;
- Advance scientific knowledge and innovation; and
- Increase efficiency, transparency and accountability of HHS programs
Many federal agencies partner in this effort: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA), to name a few.
In support of such work, NEA HIN implements a number of programs that focus on the health issues that disproportionately affect minority populations. In the area of nutrition, NEA HIN recognizes that the prevalence of obesity disproportionately affects African-American, Hispanic, and Native American children. That’s one reason why NEA HIN has launched the Bag the Junk initiative, to ensure all children have access to healthier food and beverage choices in schools.
NEA HIN also knows that Black and Hispanic households with higher rates of food insecurity, over 25 percent. That’s one reason why NEA HIN launched a Breakfast in the Classroom initiative to increase breakfast consumption among schoolchildren and spark the academic and nutritional gains associated with the morning meal. Since 2010, NEA HIN has worked in 13 high-need school districts to help bring breakfast into the classroom to all children.
Approximately 7 million children (ages 0 to 17) in the U.S. have asthma, with poor and minority children suffering a greater burden of the disease. 16 percent of non-Hispanic black children suffer from asthma in the U.S. compared to 8.2 percent among non-Hispanic white and 7.9 percent among Hispanic children. NEA HIN’s environmental health programs aim to educate NEA members on asthma and help reduce exposure to common asthma triggers in schools. Learn more about asthma and asthma triggers by taking NEA HIN’s online course Managing Asthma in the School Environment: What NEA Members Need to Know. To access the course, go to www.neaacademy.org/leader-to-leader/managing-asthma-in-the-school-environment-what-nea-members-need-to-know.html.
During National Minority Health Month, you can visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website to get more information about health care initiatives, statistics, publications and workshops on minority health. You might be inspired by a way you can take an action to help improve the health of our communities and increase access to quality, affordable health care for everyone.
In 1920, Charles-Edward Amory Winslow defined public health as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.”
That’s a mouthful—but the focus is to help people live healthy lives. By focusing groups of people, public health can support critical services that promote the health and well-being of particular populations, including children. Public health programs help address the challenges that students experience.
- Asthma is a leading cause of school absences. Public health teaches us to look beyond the needs of one student and focus on asthmagens in the building environment.
- Each year as flu season approaches, public health departments work with school nurses and allied health professionals to provide school-based vaccine programs. These clinics can also be opened up to families and community members to expand prevention.
- With childhood obesity identified as a major health problem public health helps schools look at the policies and the programs that can promote physical activity and healthier food choices.
- Because the first job of schools is to provide education and instruction, public health programs can provide support for standards-based health education that build the skills and knowledge students need to avoid risky behaviors such as substance abuse.
Whatever the health issue, public health departments can be there to help schools do a better job. Learn more about how to partner with health departments. Have you worked with your health department? Tell us about it.
Still fresh in our minds is the devastation that Superstorm Sandy caused a little over a month ago all along the east coast. In addition to damaging, devastating, or destroying homes and communities, Sandy wreaked havoc on countless numbers of schools in 24 states. Some schools closed so they could serve as emergency shelters, some schools closed because of power outages, and some closed because of massive flooding or other destruction.
Damage from Sandy, most specifically the water damage that it caused in homes and schools, can cause widespread health problems for children. Children are more susceptible to environmental contaminants because they eat, drink, and breathe more than adults and many of their vital organs are still in the development phase. Standing water and wet drywall, carpet, insulation or other building materials can serve as a breeding ground for mold, viruses, and bacteria which can cause disease and trigger allergic reactions and other health effects.
There are many different types of molds, but ALL molds have the potential to cause health effects. Common health effects from mold exposure include headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma symptoms. Since mold must have water to grow, it is important to prevent moisture problems and/or clean up excess water within 48 hours. While most schools are back in operation and have cleaned up the damage, it’s important to be vigilant about the signs that might indicate there is a problem brewing.
Sign to look for:
- Smell for musty/moldy odors
- Evidence of water-damaged materials, such as stained ceiling tiles and walls, buckling floor tiles, or bubbly paint
- Any sign of mold, including in out-of-sight places. Mold can be hidden behind walls, under carpet, and on the back sides of dry wall, wallpaper, or paneling.
- Any health symptoms that you or students might be experiencing since the damage occurred.
There are many resources available to help schools in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
- NEA HIN
- Materials for parents, teachers, and crisis teams on how to talk to kids after a natural disaster, PTSD, and surviving traumatic events.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- U. S. Department of Education
Help schools affected by Hurricane Sandy! Give to the NEA HIN Disaster Relief Fund, a 501(c) (3) tax exempt charity that provides aid to education communities in the wake of large scale disasters. NEA HIN staff works with state and local NEA affiliates to give grants to local aid organizations positioned to meet the needs of disaster-struck education communities. If you would like to support the fund, donate to the NEA HIN Disaster Relief Fund.
Since the beginning, NEA HIN has worked closely with partners in the public and private sectors to help create healthier, safer schools. In celebration of our 25th anniversary, we are highlighting some of the partners who are joining us in the Hall of Health on June 30-July 2.
Do you know how healthy the air is at your school? Do you have students who suffer from asthma? Is mold wreaking havoc in your classroom or hallways? Poor IAQ is one of the top health and safety issues reported by NEA members and can negatively impact health, learning, and job performance.
Join NEA HIN in the “Hall of Health” at the NEA Expo June 30-July 2 in Washington, DC, and visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools booth (#406). EPA will exhibit and highlight the IAQ Tools for Schools Program and other healthy school indoor environment resources. IAQ Tools for Schools resources provide clear and easily-applied guidance that will help schools develop and implement an IAQ management plan, identify and resolve existing IAQ issues, and prevent future IAQ problems. Stop by the booth to learn about mold, radon, asbestos, asthma, and other IAQ pollutants. Get your questions answered and pick up free resources for your school. Don’t wait any longer to get the ball rolling. You and your students deserve a healthy and safe school environment!
Last week the NEA Health Information Network's Lisa Creighton represented NEA HIN at the 2012 NEA Education Support Professionals (ESP) Conference. I sat down with Lisa upon her return to find out more about her experience.
Lisa, tell us about the session you presented at the ESP Conference.
The session was called Healthy Kids Learn Better: How and Why to Improve School Food. I started by talking about the obesity epidemic which is really a big part of the impetus for healthier school food. Then we looked at the Federal guidelines for school meal programs and some of the changes coming because of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act . ESPs need to know this information, but it does not tell them what they can do, so we covered local strategies. These included Farm to School , the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program , school gardens, and Breakfast in the Classroom. This last one is really about increasing participation in the program as well as improving quality.
Your focus was on healthy eating. Can you share some of our member's experiences?
Sure. One custodian really stood out. He was a "food service custodian" working just in the food service area. His school has breakfast in the classroom and he was really positive about it. He said it did not add to his work, just changed it. So instead of cleaning the cafeteria after breakfast, he goes around the building collecting the trash from each classroom. Other participants were really interested in what he was saying.
Another member from New Jersey talked about how her district was trying to make healthier food available, particularly through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
You were also exhibiting. What NEA HIN resource did the attendees get most excited about?
People had lots to say about our shingles book. Many members knew someone who had experienced shingles so they wanted to know how they could reduce their risk. Other popular resources were Start School with Breakfast , Healthy Steps for Healthy Lives , and Tools for Schools. Our lip balm was also very popular because the air in the hotel was so dry.
Were you able to attend any other workshops?
I went to the session on Farm to School Programs presented by the National Farm to School Network and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. People were really excited. A few of the attendees talked about the farmer's markets at their schools. Others were interested in starting up new programs and school gardens.
Did you meet any celebrities?
Yes, I met the Lorax who was there to promote Read Across America. He was quiet, but friendly. And much shorter in person.
Is there anything you want to add?
Thank you to NEA's ESP Quality Department for the invitation to present and exhibit. There were so may first time attendees who were all so excited. It's a great conference.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Read Across America Day 2012 is showcasing The Lorax and while there may be many a Truffula tree planted, it's also a great time to think about the indoor environment of your school.
NEA HIN has a host of resources that can help you improve the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of your school. Superior IEQ is one of the many components of a green, high-performance school. Our partners at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offer the IAQ Tools for Schools program to reduce exposures to IEQ contaminants in schools through the voluntary adoption of sound and effective IAQ management plans. You can also learn more about "greening" your school by visiting the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools.
So after you enjoy the book or the movie and have decided whether or not you need a sneed, think about how you can help create safer and healthier schools for all!
NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen worked with CNN on a special news piece that reveals just how hazardous crumbling schools are to student learning and health.
CNN will shine the national spotlight on indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools across America with a segment airing on Saturday, January 14 (8 p.m. and 11 p.m.) and Sunday, January 15 (2 a.m., 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.)
The segment highlights CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta as he visits schools in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut and examines the impact of poor IAQ on students and school employees. During his travels, Dr. Gupta spoke to NEA members and leaders, including NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen (read Lily’s blog), who emphasized the dire need to fix our schools, making clear the impact that IAQ has on student health, safety, and performance.
An estimated 14 million American children attend public schools that are in urgent need of extensive repair or replacement and have unhealthy environmental conditions, including poor air quality, unsafe drinking water and inadequate safety systems. NEA and its members are urging Congress to pass President Obama’s Fix America’s Schools Today Act, which would provide $25 billion for modernizing and repairing public schools, with half of the funds funneled to schools that need it most.
To get a sneak peek at a behind the scenes video of the
segment, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBxGwLCkN4s.
During the week following the segment, we'll continue to discuss the modernization of schools, IAQ, and their effect on performance.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these five ways can help raise awareness of radon and save lives in your school and community.
Set a bold goal for your community to reduce radon risk. Whether you are conducting a single National Radon Action Month event, or developing an entire radon risk reduction program for your community, it is important to set goals to define what you will achieve. See the Event Planning Kit for more information.
Plan a National Radon Action Month activity or event to kick off your campaign. Conduct activities and events designed to raise awareness, recognize successful efforts, and share best practices. Set goals and establish ways to measure results from your activities and events. See the Event Planning Kit for tips and tools.
An excellent way to get your entire community involved is the National Radon Poster Contest. Students ages 9-14 are encouraged to create posters that raise radon awareness. Entries will be accepted from March through October from students in all U.S. states, tribal nations and U.S. territories. Visit http://sosradon.org/2011-poster-contest for more information about this year's contest and how you can get involved.
Promote your activity or event on EPA’s Web site and elsewhere. Use tools such as blogs and the Share Your Story feature on www.radonleaders.org to promote your activities and share outreach ideas with the broader radon community.
Work with the media to spread your message. Work with your local media outlets to run Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and generate media coverage of radon topics, events, and activities in your community. View and order customizable radon PSAs. See the Event Planning Kit for tips on preparing press releases and Op-Eds.
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:
- Urge your member of Congress to pass the Fix America’s Schools Today Act which will provide $25 billion to modernize and repair public schools nationwide. Visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center for details.
- Take NEA’s online course, “What’s Your IEQ? A Roadmap to School Indoor Environmental Quality” to learn about mold, asbestos, and other pollutants and how you can organize around IEQ as a local association. To take the course visit www.neaacademy.org.
- Let us know how crumbling schools are affecting you. Tell us your story about crumbling schools,comment on this blog, post to our Facebook page or our Twitter account.