Indoor Air Quality Management Helping to Improve Academic Achievement

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.

EPA’s Framework for Effective School

This is an image of EPA’s Framework for Effective School IAQ Management. Click on the image for a larger, interactive version of the Key Drivers.

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

Cultivating the Seeds of Knowledge; Growing a Greener Future for our Nation

EPA Administrator Jackson, CEQ Chair Sutley and Secretary of Education Duncan plant a Texas Live Oak Tree outside of the U.S. Department of Education (Photo by: Eric Vance, US EPA)

Cross-posted from the CEQ Blog

As the bitter chill of winter retreats, the vibrancy of spring beckons us outdoors reminding us of the inextricable link between the natural world and our daily lives.  In striving to meet the President’s challenge to win the future by out-educating the rest of the world, we must cultivate the environmental health of our learning spaces and our students’ understanding of their environment to enable them to meet the challenges of the future.

Today, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality came together to launch the Green Ribbon Schools Program.  This program  plants the seeds to move toward educational excellence for the future by recognizing schools that are creating healthy and sustainable learning environments -both inside and outside the classroom, teaching environmental literacy, and increasing environmental health by reducing their environmental footprint.

Led by the Department of Education, in close partnership with the EPA and CEQ, the Green Ribbon Schools program will incentivize and reward schools that help to ensure that our students receive an education second to none by improving the health and environmental footprint of nation’s schools.  To prepare our children for the clean energy economy of the future, Green Ribbon schools will be those that incorporate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and environmental stewardship into their curricula.

Education Secretary Duncan, EPA Administrator Jackson and CEQ Chair Sutley announce the Green Ribbon Schools program with local students. (Photo by: Eric Vance, US EPA)

This initiative will also help to reconnect our nation’s youth to the environment around them, as part of President Obama’s Americas Great Outdoors initiative, by encouraging outdoor learning. In a day when children spend half as much time outside as their parents did, there’s no time like the present to leverage the Federal government’s leadership to fuel our children’s spirit of adventure and reconnect them with the outdoors. After all, outdoor access and environmental education will better prepare our students to find innovative solutions to tomorrow’s challenges and compete for the jobs of the future.

We want the best for our students, and we all share the responsibility to equip them with tools to accomplish their greatest potential. The Green Ribbon Schools Program is one example of how the Federal Government will work to instill educational and environmental excellence in communities across America.  Later this year, the application for the program will be released, and the first group of “Green Ribbon Schools” will be announced next year. By helping to cultivate the seeds of environmental and educational excellence in our nation’s schools, we can grow an even brighter future our nation.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of the Department of Education
Lisa P. Jackson is Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Turning School Buses Green

On April 1, President Obama unveiled his green fleet initiative, which ensures that by 2015, all new vehicles purchased by federal agencies will be electric, gas-electric hybrid, or alternatively fueled.  “In an economy that relies so heavily on oil, rising prices at the pump affect everybody,” the President said.

Feeling pain at the pump is not new for cash-strapped school districts around the country who need to keep their school buses moving and on time.  Secretary Duncan has noted that schools and school districts are facing new challenges of doing even more with less, or what he calls the “new normal.”  It’s this “new normal” and the instability and rising price of oil that led the Kansas City Kansas Public School District (KCKPS) to rewrite its history in education transportation and purchase 47 new, environmentally-friendly natural gas buses.

One of Kansas City Kansas Public School District's new environmentally-friendly buses.

The buses received a warm welcome last month as they were paraded through Kansas City, accompanied by cheering crowds and with a marching band leading the way. The compressed natural gas (CNG) buses replace nearly one-third of the KCKPS diesel bus fleet and are estimated to reduce fuel costs by one-third.  Personnel costs will also be diminished due to the shorter time needed to refuel. KCKPS is the first school district in the state to use CNG school buses.

George Taylor, Director of Transportation for KCKPS, started developing this plan four years ago while looking for a way to upgrade the district’s fleet and solidify the health and well-being of students. Taylor anticipates a saving of $55,000 per bus over a 10-year period.  The current cost of CNG is $1.19 per gallon, and through the federal Alternative Fuel Excise Tax Credit, KCKPS receives a credit of 50 cents per gallon, which means the district will only have to spend 69 cents per gallon.

Funding for the bus purchases and the necessary CNG refueling infrastructure came from a $4-million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Metropolitan Energy Center and the Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition.  Additional costs were covered by the district itself.

Read more about KCKPS’s project and about the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative.

-Elaine Venard

Elaine Venard is an Administrative Officer in ED’s Kansas City Regional Office, a community college reading tutor, and an Adopt-A-Highway volunteer.  She is the mother of a middle school science teacher.