Girl Planting seeds

A Healthy School for Every Child

Healthy_schools_day_2019By Deirdre Imus, 4-1-2019
Schools should be some of the most sacred structures on our planet. They are shrines to learning of all sorts, whether educational, emotional, lifestyle, or otherwise. We learn how to do math in school but we also learn how to make and maintain friendships, how to take care of one another and also of our planet.  More than 55 million children and seven million adults – 20 percent of the U.S. population - occupy schools every day. Schools are more densely occupied than offices and in worse shape than prisons. Despite their vital role in society, these buildings are simply not at the forefront of most people’s minds day in and day out.

Which is shameful, not least of all because the environments within our schools are making our kids, their educators, and anyone who works within their walls – sick. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that half of schools have indoor pollution problems that are largely avoidable, and according to the Institute of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health, polluted indoor environments can damage children’s health, thinking and learning. Childhood asthma rates are on the rise, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the prevalence of autism has become ever greater. All children need a healthy, safe environment to flourish educationally, and currently they don’t all have one.

Ironically, the schools in this country are not designed, built, or operated to be environmentally hospitable to the very population they serve. But a healthy indoor environment does so much more than just improve air quality (which is, of course, very important). It can also boost attendance and achievement, and help with teacher recruitment, retention and productivity. What’s more, working to eliminate toxins from inside of schools saves money by preventing contamination in the first place, rather than having to remediate toxic conditions later. 

States across the country have been falling behind on school facilities spending and construction, which has prompted Congress to introduce legislation to Rebuild America’s Schools. Fifty billion dollars has been spent nationwide on school structures, but that number is still far short of what we need to bring all buildings up to code. In New Jersey, child care centers and educational facilities are required to obtain a Safe Building Interior Certification from the NJ Department of Health, but this only applies in certain cases, like if a building was constructed prior to 1979, or if renovations are taking place. We need across-the-board inspections and standards to be met at all buildings, regardless of any other factors.

Low-cost actions to improve school indoor environments include: 
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On April 2, National Healthy Schools Day, talk to your local school administrators about the health of the building itself, and how this in turn impacts everybody who works and learns inside it. Ask what has been done, what is currently happening, and plans for the future in terms of making the school a healthier, greener place for our children and their educators. Thank them for the good work they’ve done - and offer to help make the environment even better, however you can. 

 

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