schools

EPA Grant to Schools Helps Bring Green Thumbs and Healthy Eating to Kirksville, Mo.

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

Teagan Scheurer and Levi Boyer plant pumpkin seeds at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Children will also help harvest the vegetables from their seeds.

Teagan Scheurer and Levi Boyer plant pumpkin seeds at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Children will also help harvest the vegetables from their seeds.

EPA Region 7 awarded an Environmental Education grant in late 2015 that is funding gardening lessons and nutrition classes in the Kirksville School District in Kirksville, Mo. Karen Keck, project manager, has engaged various youth as students, interns and volunteers, not to mention the city’s businesses and senior residents.

Many hands-on, outdoor activities happened this summer. The following blog by Karen gives just a taste of what was accomplished. Besides the good work of the school district, my favorite part of this grant is seeing the happy faces of the students, as they learn about and engage in their environment.

By Karen Keck

The Green Thumb Project had a great summer of activities through the work of people taking the lead on projects at the school and in the community. Four summer interns and our grant coordinator, Josh Ellerman, and an AmeriCorps member, Derek Franklin, were employed in educating various groups about gardening and healthy eating.

Derek Franklin works with a Village 76 resident and Green Thumb Intern Kaitlyn Meyer to check the health of the "veggie squares," personal gardens created for residents.

Derek Franklin works with a Village 76 resident and Green Thumb Intern Kaitlyn Meyer to check the health of the “veggie squares,” personal gardens created for residents.

Intern Cole Haugen maintained the garden at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Additionally, Cole presented interactive lessons to the children who attend the center during the summer.

Kaitlyn Meyer and Becca Elder were supported by the Kirksville Housing Authority to build, maintain and move “veggie squares” (4-by-4 raised beds) outside the doors of elderly residents at an independent living community, Village 76. They held events with this community through the summer, usually involving vegetables and herbs and plenty of conversation. Kaitlyn and Becca also contributed to educational activities at a subsidized housing area in Kirksville.

Amanda Thomas was hired to make t-shirts for the project, spruce up the learning garden at the schools, and find creative ways to advertise the project throughout the city. Justin McKean also worked at the learning garden, weeding and planting to keep it looking good throughout the summer and making sure it would be ready to use for classes and after-school programs when classes began.

EPA's Kris Lancaster participates in an outdoor environmental education program, sponsored by the Kirksville School District in partnership with the Green Thumb Project.

EPA’s Kris Lancaster (left) participates in an outdoor environmental education program, sponsored by the Kirksville School District in partnership with the Green Thumb Project.

Together, they led a “Seed to Plate” camp and presented garden programs to children enrolled in a YMCA summer program. Overall, a variety of engaging activities were implemented for a wide variety of people in Kirksville!

About the Introducer: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Karen Keck is the outdoor education coordinator for the Kirksville School District, and teaches environmental science, earth science and biology at Kirksville High School. She is the current chairperson of the Green Thumb Project Board of Advisors.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Head Lice and Bike Helmets

By Marcia Anderson

Head lice have specialized feet for holding onto hair.

Head lice have specialized feet for holding onto hair.

When I visited a local school, I was asked by the nurse about strategies for dealing with head lice – tiny parasites that attach to human head hair and feed on blood through the skin. She said there was a problem in preschool and kindergarten classes where she suspected the children were passing lice through the school’s common bike helmets. The children shared the helmets when taking turns riding tricycles.

The nurse asked three important questions. How should they treat the helmets? Is there something they could spray in the helmets between uses? How should they deal with head lice in the school?

Head lice are very contagious and are transferred by sharing clothes, hairbrushes, combs, pillows, hair decorations, and hats with somebody who has lice. Applying a pesticide to the helmets, in the classrooms, on children’s hats or their clothes isn’t recommended.

To control lice in helmets, the National Pediculosis Association recommends vacuuming and wiping out the helmets between uses. They note that a louse can survive less than 24 hours away from a human host, but the nits (eggs) on a hair left in the helmet could survive up to 10 days. Detachable foam fitting pads and the nylon straps can also be washed.

Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control.

Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control.

The Centers for Disease Control’s head lice guidance states that lice are spread most commonly by direct contact with the hair of an infected person. Spread by contact with inanimate objects and personal belongings may occur but is very uncommon. The feet of lice are specially adapted for holding onto human hair. They would have difficulty attaching to smooth or slippery surfaces like plastic, metal, polished synthetic leathers, and other similar materials. However, hairs left in sports helmets may have lice attached to them so they must be cleaned between uses. It is best to have helmets specific to each child to avoid sharing.

Treatment on clothes, hats and other head gear. There are many ways to treat head lice. The EPA provides information on lice and their control and recommends an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, especially in schools and childcare centers. IPM is a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control that focuses on prevention.

Once a louse has been identified, the first step is to begin sanitation efforts by washing and heat drying all of the belongings that may have been exposed. This will kill all the head lice and eggs that may be on hairs that are attached to the clothing, pillow cases or other items. Next monitor – check the hair and scalp frequently by combing with a nit comb to see if there are any other lice or eggs.

Prevention. There are different ways to prevent exposure to head lice. Tell your children not to share combs, brushes, hats or clothing with anyone. Vacuum frequently and wash and heat dry anything they may have shared.

School Head Lice Policies. When children return to school in the fall, who is responsible when it comes to head lice? According to Dr. Richard Pollack of the Harvard School of Public Health, “School policies are outdated and written during a time when body lice was a growing concern among residents….However, times have changed and head lice is not the epidemic that it is thought to be. Common misconception of head lice can lead to over diagnosis and unnecessary action.” An effective head lice policy should be included in each school district’s IPM plan. The American Association of Pediatrics guidance on treating head lice states that “No healthy child should be excluded from, or miss school because of head lice and no-nit policies should be abandoned.”

IdentifyUS, LLC, provides a helpful flow chart on managing presumed head lice infestations in schools and a similar chart for home use. Harvard University also provides an informative head lice question and answer page. For even more information on head lice read the Spokane (WA) Regional Health District’s Guidelines for Controlling Head Lice. To learn why lice may be harder to control today than 20 years ago read the 2012 EPA blog Persistent and Possibly Resistant Head Lice.

Having a well-conceived head lice policy, a current IPM-based plan for dealing with head lice, and useful reference materials will enable schools everywhere to deal with the problem if it pops up.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Releases New Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency Guidance for Schools

Colorado Springs School District 11 is set to save more than $928,000 on its energy bill every year, thanks to an effort to increase energy efficiency and protect indoor air quality.

This month we released our Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades, a guidance document designed to help schools reduce their environmental impact and ensure clean air for their students. Just like School District 11 in Colorado Springs, schools will likely be able to save some money, too.

Our new guidelines highlight best practices for addressing 23 critical indoor air quality topics, including moisture and mold control; hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead; building products and materials; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. They also examine how schools can think about improving indoor air quality while doing renovations to improve energy efficiency, and how renovations can achieve both goals.

One in five people across the U.S. are in a school building during school hours. Schools are often used as recreation centers, meeting places, and emergency shelters, too. They are one of the most visited buildings in many communities, so many people are affected when schools know how to operate efficiently while maintaining healthy indoor environments.

School districts across the country will reap the benefits of improved student and staff health, and they will also save precious dollars through reduced operational costs. We know that indoor air quality plays a critical role in health, attendance, and academic performance. Improving energy efficiency can also have significant environmental and economic benefits.

In addition to all the benefits school districts will see right away, focusing in on energy efficiency and indoor air quality together can help schools to shrink their carbon footprints and energy use, and prepare for potential impacts of climate change, including people choosing to spend more time indoors.

Be sure to check out our other publications and resources on good indoor air quality in the design, construction, renovation, maintenance, and operations of school buildings.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Schools, Children’s Health and the Environment

By Shao Lin and Christine Kielb

How do environmental hazards and policies affect children’s health and school performance?

Group photo of health schools research team

Healthy Schools Group, from L to R: Melissa Frisbee , Nazia Saiyed, Christine Kielb, Cristian Pantea, Amanda St. Louis, Michele Herdt-Losavio, Neil Muscatiello, Shao Lin.

Thanks to support from the EPA Science To Achieve Results (STAR) program, we explored those questions. Our project is the first to addresses multiple aspects of environmental health and schools, such as developing indicators related to school locations, and how to develop methodologies for assessing and improving school health.

With EPA support, we are: 1) developing and enhancing Environmental Public Health Indicators (EPHI) representing environmental hazards, children’s school performance, and health; 2) exploring new methodologies for assessing exposure sources; 3) assessing how school environments, along with location and socio-economic status affect children’s health; and 4) evaluating the effectiveness of efforts to protect children’s environmental health in New York, such as the New York State Clean air School Bus Program and school bus idling regulations.

EPA support also enabled us to extend or continue our previous activities, including: tracking how school building conditions and asthma hospitalizations change over time in New York; surveying school nurses, custodians, district facility directors, and teachers to identify environmental problems—and potential solutions—facing schools; and examining how the surrounding neighborhood, specifically a school’s proximity to facilities such as hazardous waste sites, major roads, or airports might increase childhood asthma risk. We also assessed the impacts of healthy school characteristics related to indoor air quality, ventilation, cleanliness, thermal comfort, lighting and acoustics on student attendance, academic performance, and respiratory health.

Image of a schoolWe found some important results. For example, our work showed an association between missed school days and certain poor conditions in the school: visible mold, humidity, poor ventilation, and vermin. Having six or more individual such building-related problems was also associated with student absenteeism. Further, these associations were strongest among schools in lower socioeconomic districts, and in schools attended by younger students. We also found district-level childhood asthma hospitalizations to be related to poor condition of roofing, windows, exterior wall, floor finishes, and boiler or furnace.

When looking at air quality, we found that the control policy for nitrogen oxides (NOx) may have had a positive impact on both state-wide and regional air pollution levels and respiratory health. The positive effect varied by children with different types of respiratory diseases, region, and socio-demographic characteristics.

Our EPA-supported research is providing important data and information, informing our work developing and implementing a sustainable school environmental health program for New York State. We have shared our findings with a Steering Committee consisting of approximately 50 key school environmental health stakeholders, including superintendents, facilities managers, teachers, state agencies, physicians and advocacy groups, and have been working on plans to address existing and emerging environmental problems challenging schools. With these efforts well under way, we fully expect our findings to lead to healthier students, teaches, and other school occupants throughout New York.    

About the Authors: EPA grantee Dr. Shao Lin (MD, Ph.D.), has more than 20 years of experience directing environmental studies, including climate/weather factors, air pollution, heavy traffic exposure, residential exposure to urban air pollution, health effects among New York City residents living near Ground Zero, and a series of school environmental health projects.

Christine  Kielb has worked as an epidemiologist in the area of school environmental health since 2002, and has coordinated various school environmental health projects. She has played a major role in developing, conducting and analyzing surveys of school nurses, custodians facilities managers, and teachers regarding school environments and health. 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Make Healthy Schools Day April 8 A Day of Action!

Providing every child with a quality education is a high priority. Of course we want our kids to learn, grow, and be successful. But the reality is that many schools are older buildings with indoor air quality problems that can be fixed, sometimes with easy to use EPA tools that can help student performance at the same time. One in 10 school-age kids have asthma and some schools can have issues with mold, radon and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).) The evidence shows that health and test scores can improve if more schools put in place EPA’s Tools for Schools, which includes a Framework for Effective School Indoor Air Quality Management.

In fact, last week I attended the National Green Schools Conference where I talked with Dave Hill from Blue Valley School District in Kansas. He told me how their students have shown dramatic increases in math and reading test scores over the 12 years using these tools. I also heard from other local and state leaders about how more schools should use these and other EPA tools to improve children’s health, prevent pollution, cut carbon pollution, save energy, reduce pesticide use, and improve test scores! More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Is Your Child’s School Stuck on a Pest Control Treadmill?

Many schools are stuck on a “treadmill” of never-ending pesticide applications, without addressing the underlying issues that make schools attractive to pests. If we can make it so pests aren’t attracted in the first place, the need for pesticides in schools would be greatly reduced.

Choosing a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach can reduce pests and pesticide risks, create a healthier environment for our children, and save schools money in pesticide treatment and energy costs from improved insulation as a result of sealing cracks and adding door sweeps. We call this approach Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

John McDonogh High

Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and school leaders toured John Mcdonogh High School

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Integrated Pest Management | Working with Schools

South 17th Street Elementary School in the Ironbound District of Newark, NJ

By Adrian Enache

Integrated Pest Management – is that a euphemism for whipping pests into shape? Well, that’s one way to look at it. But it’s so much more…

IPM is a system for reducing pesticide risk and exposure to humans, particularly children. Put simply, IPM is a safer and usually less costly option for effective pest management in a school community.

Two years ago, EPA launched an effort to highlight the nationwide adoption and implementation of IPM in Schools.  The focus: to expand protection for a vulnerable population – school age children. Here, in New York City and the region, we embarked on developing and implementing a robust School IPM program.  One of the main features of an effective IPM program is to monitor the pest population and determine the best pest control methods, using pesticides only and only if all other methods failed.

The first step consists of assessing the existing, if any, pest control practices in our schools. While some schools have IPM, others don’t.   Working together with our state and local pesticide regulatory and education department partners, we developed letters signed by all these agencies outlining the importance of IPM  in school settings and urging school administrators to consider adoption of IPM, as the not only environmentally sound pest control alternative, but also the economically advantageous alternative. In New York State, our letters reached 3,300 public schools attended by more than 1,782,000 students.  In New York City alone, we reached 1,700 schools attended by more than 1,100,000 children.

Naturally, our outreach efforts don’t stop here. We recently reached agreements with the New York State Pest Management Association (NYSPMA) and the New York City Pest Management Association (NYCPMA) to have these organizations promote to their membership adoption of IPM as the day to day operational method. The same is also talking place in other EPA Region 2 states.

Also as part of the regional School IPM efforts, we planned pilot projects in selected areas in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, targeting several environmental justice communities located in Staten Island, Brooklyn, West Harlem and Washington Heights.

About the Author: Dr. Enache is the Manager of Pesticides Program out of EPA Region 2’s office in Edison, New Jersey.  In this capacity, he is responsible for the implementation of pesticide regulations throughout the region.  He feels that strongly that the safe use of pesticides is one of the most important missions of the EPA’s Pesticides Program.  Dr. Enache and his team are focusing their outreach efforts towards schools and child care facilities, considering that children may potentially be exposed to harmful pesticides if misused or overused.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Radon Reflections at the Tools for Schools Symposium

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Each year, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division hosts an indoor air quality, or IAQ, symposium in Washington D.C. This year’s 10th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium took place January 14 to 16 — during National Radon Action Month. As a scientist for EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, naturally I was delighted to have the opportunity to present radon information at the symposium.

Workgroup meeting at Indoor Air Quality SymposiumThis year’s symposium featured five school districts with specific IAQ design challenges. Each attendee played an integral role as a design team member, formulating strategies to help a school district improve IAQ management. As I interacted with teams, I discovered IAQ stakeholders in many forms: facilities managers, building technicians, nurses, principals, government and even parents. Despite their different roles, people were passionate for school health and worked together to produce excellent solutions in a short period of time.

Discussions about radon were abundant at the symposium. While sipping my latte, a man started a conversation about radon in his school district. He whispered as if it were a secret, “We build radon prevention right into our new school designs.” My eyes lit up so bright; I think I startled him, or maybe he thought I was going to hug him. The importance of preventing pollutants from entering a building is no secret; think about how vapor barriers, gutters and even window screens keep a number of pollutants safely out of the indoor environment.

I overheard someone say, “How will they know if they don’t test?” I smiled and shook my head vigorously in agreement. Clearly this person had just grasped how important it is to test for radon. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, three children were recognized during the National Radon Poster Contest awards luncheon, and EPA’s Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, touted the benefits of recognizing radon in school IAQ.

As I reflect on activities at the symposium, it’s clear that radon is certainly at the forefront of school IAQ management. My hope is that symposium attendees will share their reflections on the symposium here or blog about it on radonleaders.org. Please comment, reply and get your story out there.

About the Author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Clean Out the Chemicals

About the author: Jeff Maurer manages Web content and does communications work for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

When my mom first starting teaching in 1971, duck-and-cover drills – in which students were taught to curl up underneath their desks in the event of a nuclear attack – were still in vogue. Apparently, desks were much sturdier back then – strong enough to withstand a nuclear blast.

When we lived in Kentucky, Mom taught at a school that practiced regular tornado drills. By the 1990s, teachers were being taught how to treat cuts in ways that prevent the spread of hepatitis and HIV, and “lockdown” drills became common after the Columbine shootings. By the time Mom retired last year, school safety training had been expanded to include managing students’ gluten, seafood, and peanut allergies.

Clearly, student safety in schools came a long way during Mom’s career. But in all of her years as a teacher, my mom was never once taught how to safely manage chemicals that are commonly found in schools.

That needs to change. School science labs, trade shops, and janitorial areas – any area of a school – can contain hazardous chemicals that can be harmful to students and teachers if improperly managed. Beyond the obvious health hazards, chemical spills can result in lost school days, cleanup costs, and liability.

Chemical management should be part of every school’s safety routine. Thankfully, EPA’s Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) is making it easy for schools to clear out unneeded chemicals and make sure that needed chemicals are properly managed. The SC3 provides a wealth of resources – including a promotional video and a tool kit for starting a chemical management campaign – to teachers, parents, school administrators, community groups, and just about anyone concerned with safe chemical management in schools.

It works, too; schools across the country are implementing successful chemical management campaigns. In my area, the Arlington Public Schools system removed 600 pounds of chemicals from its secondary schools. That hits home for me because my sister – following in Mom’s footsteps – works in the public school system here in Northern Virginia.

For my sister’s safety and for everyone’s safety, I’m glad that safe chemical management in schools is catching on. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week; I think that a good way to celebrate might be to see if the schools in your area are practicing safe chemical management. After all, the danger posed by hazardous chemicals, unlike certain other safety concerns, can’t be neutralized by simply hiding beneath a desk.

More information about healthy school environments is available online.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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