Every school district values educational achievement, low absentee rates, high grades and test scores, and an active and engaged student body. To achieve these aims, schools across the country are focusing on creating healthy indoor environments.
With two 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools located in my district, I am excited to share the story of Omaha Public Schools (OPS) in Nebraska in creating healthy indoor environments for our students. Our school district has proactively addressed student environmental health issues for the past 13 years and has also earned EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools awards.
To ensure a healthy indoor school environment—a critical Element of Pillar Two of the ED-GRS award—OPS implemented EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Framework for Effective School IAQ Management. This helped our district organize an effective IAQ management program that was tailored to meet our needs, and effectively communicate best practices and concerns with building and grounds departments, facilities and maintenance staff members, administrators, teachers and parents. Communication with the school community is one of the most important steps to ensuring a successful and sustainable IAQ management program.
Recent research has demonstrated that poor IAQ can affect the health and comfort of students by causing allergy and asthma attacks, headaches, tiredness, and other symptoms, making it difficult for students to concentrate and excel in school. To assess IAQ concerns, OPS conducted school walkthroughs to detect: nuisance odors; radon and other source contaminants; chemical exposure; and asthma triggers including dust, mold growth and vehicle exhaust. We used checklists in EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit to plan how to address IAQ concerns, including problems that could be fixed relatively easily and those to be incorporated into a long-term IAQ management plan.
Another key component of our IAQ management plan is to evaluate the impact our program has on student and staff health, productivity and performance. OPS found a decrease in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks with the implementation of our plan. By collecting data, we were also able to effectively communicate the results of our program and secure buy-in among school administrators.
An easy way to take action is to reach out to mentor school districts to learn about IAQ management best practices and form partnerships within your community. The Omaha Public School District has partnered with several other organizations and programs including state and local agencies, which is a fun and engaging way to improve and refine your school’s IAQ management program.
I am proud to be a part of Omaha Public Schools’ success over the past 13 years; we have overcome challenges and created a green and healthy learning environment for our students.
Shelley R. Bengtson, Environmental Specialist, Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska