Ever wonder how you can make your school "healthy", for both the environment and your children? What are some simple steps and strategies that you can use to improve your school's environmental health? What questions do you need to ask, and what do you need to investigate to ensure success? Read on to find out five steps to a healthier future.
1) Ask questions. In order to determine whether your school has environmental problems, here are some important questions to ask:
--Does your child go to school healthy but come home sick?
--Do fumes seep into the school building(s)?
--Has the building ever flooded?
--Does the building smell damp or musty?
--Does the building smell like paint, varnish or glue – and has it been newly renovated?
--Is the building treated with pesticides?
--Are the school grounds treated with pesticides?
--Does construction debris surround the school?
--Is construction debris messy and noisy?
--Does the school have a preventative maintenance plan in place?
--Are heating, lighting, ventilation, windows, doors, and buses energy efficient?
--Does the school protect occupants during construction and renovation?
--Does the school promote good indoor air quality by preventing mold and dust, and by using non-toxic products?
--Does the school clean with environmentally safe and non-toxic products?
You can find these questions and more at: http://www.healthyschools.org/what_you_can.html.
This will help your school identify top priorities for action in your school. Also consider working with local organizations, environmental experts and businesses during your evaluation of the school's environmental health.
2) Get people involved. Form a Health and Safety Committee. This should include parents, teachers, students and staff. Student involvement in the committee is essential – kids should be actively involved in the cause to understand it. Meet regularly to devise an outline and a list of goals for the year, and divide the goals among each member to take on and to organize teams. This is a good way to define, outline, and point out what issues need to be addressed. Initial goals can include conducting a walk-through of the school buildings and school grounds or filling out a survey form on current building conditions, including roofs, carpeting, flooring, plumbing and wiring. Here's a list of goals for Washington State's Dept of Health School Environmental Health and Safety Committee:
• Proactively protect children’s health
• [Rules] are based on the best available science
• Ensure accountability between school districts, local health jurisdictions and their communities
• Support and promote current school health and safety programs that work
• Have the least burdensome regulatory structure
• Are compatible and consistent with existing related regulations (such as building codes)
• Are realistic about resource limitations of schools and local health jurisdictions. These goals and more can be found at: http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/ts/School/s-rdc/default.htm#goals. Another great resource to check out for starting points is the National Resource Defense Council's website: http://www.nrdc.org/greensquad/intro/intro_2.asp
3) Develop a green mission statement. Once you have your committee in place, organize a brainstorming session with members in order to gather ideas on your environmental pledge. Think about the goals you have already set, and incorporate that into your vision. Keep in mind that this statement will define the key objectives of the school's environmental efforts. This can be written in the words of the students, and should be inspiring and motivating. It should encourage the entire school community to take action and to do their part to help create a better, healthier future. A stellar example of a mission statement drafted by the Little Green Schoolhouse "Four Pillars" includes the goals: "Strives to be Toxic Free, Use Resources Sustainably, Create a Green, Healthy Space, and Teach, Learn, and Engage". Check out their website with the "Four Pillars" defined at: http://www.greenschools.net/report/index.html.
4) Spread the word. Inform everyone about the efforts being made to improve your school's environmental health. Create green awareness by providing them with a list of resources to examine. We've compiled a list for you to share:
--The US Environmental Protection Agency has created The Healthy School Environments Assessment Tool, a software tool designed to easily adapt to your school state/local requirements and policies. www.epa.gov/schools/.
--GreenSquad website: http://www.nrdc.org/greensquad/intro/intro_1.asp. This is an online interactive tool for kids, teachers, and parents as well as a library of resources with tips and facts about protecting the environment.
--Environmental checklist: examples can be found at
and http://www.besafenet.com/checklist.pdf. Check out these comprehensive lists of tasks to complete as the new school year begins. Here is an excerpt from the checklist. Some things to look for include:
Is the school clean, and are carpets, floors, ceilings and air intakes free of water stains and mold? Tips: Check for unclean areas and mold and water stains on walls, floors and ceilings.
--Alliance to Save Energy Green Schools Program: http://www.ase.org/section/program/greenschl
The site includes links to "Students Leading the Way 2005-2006", a booklet about Energy success stories in schools across California.
--Renewable Energy Trust – Green Schools Initiative
Learn about the partnership between the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Massachusetts School Building Authority to provide schools with the information they need to build high-performance green schools.
--Green Building For Schools http://www.pca.state.mn.us/oea/ee/greenschools.cfm#capital
Comprehensive resources on building a green school from the ground up, organizing school energy projects and more.
5) "Green" your curriculum. You can incorporate "green" into any subject – from the sciences, to the arts, to math, reading and more. The Green Schools Initiative has compiled some useful resources for integrating "greening" into your curriculum. Just visit: http://www.greenschools.net/resources.html for lots of useful tips, activities and ideas for the classroom. Discount School Supply has created a useful PDF on environmental tips such as saving energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and practical everyday tips on how you can help save the environment. To download their free environmental guide, simply email EarthGuide@DiscountSchoolSupply.com, and a guide will be automatically emailed to you. You might also want to check out: http://www.greeningschools.org/resources/view_cat_teacher.cfm?id=50 for an Educator Resource page provided by the Illinois EPA in collaboration with the Illinois Waste Management and Research Center. Finally, think about outdoor activities to help nurture children's appreciation for nature and the environment. Field trips to the local zoo, park or even time spent in the schoolyard are all great ways to start incorporating environmental education into everyday curriculum. To start, take a look at the environmentally-friendly activities provided by EarlychildhoodNEWS at: http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/activity_search.aspx and http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/activity_search.aspx.
Use the 5 steps above to create a greener, healthier future for your children. For more information, visit the websites mentioned throughout the article, as well as our resources below:
Yvonne Gando is Assistant Editor at EarlychildhoodNEWS.com