Back to School – Keeping our Children Safe and Healthy

In less than two weeks I will send my daughter, Hannah, to her first year of school – kindergarten, where the children will be assigned, I am told, actual homework – and I will experience a milestone day of parental reckoning. But after touring the school, meeting the teachers, and commiserating with the other parents, I am almost as excited as Hannah to experience her first day and let her begin to explore and fulfill her potential.

As someone who has worked on school environmental health since 1996, I know that indoor air quality (IAQ) issues will play a role in my daughter’s ability to do just that—live out her full potential. More and more research shows just how much IAQ in school buildings affects both student and teacher health and performance.

One might think that my knowledge of how poor IAQ can affect children’s health would add to my anxiety about Hannah going to school. But while my position has made me very familiar with the problems associated with poor IAQ, it’s also made me keenly aware of the solutions. I’ve walked a mile in school stakeholders’ shoes, and seen IAQ management from each individual’s perspective. I can personally attest to how passionate people in schools are about protecting children’s health, and how a community effort around these issues can create change.

And a big part of that community effort involves parents. I’d like all the moms and dads interested in advocating for healthy school IAQ to know that they, too, can make a difference at their children’s schools.

Become knowledgeable about the issues and the solutions. Open a dialogue with the school principal about how you could be a partner in their efforts. Offer to be the “parent liaison” for IAQ and share your knowledge with other parents; give a short presentation at a PTA meeting; give the principal an IAQ “fact of the week” to publish in the school newsletter. Better yet, encourage them to get involved in the IAQ Tools for Schools National Awards Program so they are rewarded for their efforts and progress in creating healthy environments. If you become partners with your children’s schools, you will accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

If you remember only one thing from this blog, I hope it is this: IAQ management, much like parenting, is a lifestyle—not a diet. You have to live it.

About the author: Jennifer Lemon has been working on indoor air quality issues in schools since 1996. She works in the U.S. EPA’s Indoor Environments Division.