When we think of ways to help a student achieve academic success, we often think of serving healthier school lunches, free breakfast programs, outdoor recess, and of course, encouraging studying and homework. While those are all promising ways to improve academic performance, recent research suggests that a school’s physical environment may play an equally important role in academic performance. Issues with poor ventilation, leaky roofs, mold, built-up dust, and the excessive usage of cleaning chemicals all contribute to poor indoor air quality, which undoubtedly affects student health and performance.
In many schools today, particularly older schools, indoor air ventilation rates are far below the recommended levels. Evidence suggests that improving the outdoor air ventilation rates can improve student (and teacher!) performance, increase test scores, and reduce airborne transmission of infection. One study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compared the standardized test scores of students in a classroom with higher outdoor air ventilation rates (implying less ‘stuffy’/ lower CO2 air) to the scores of students with lower outdoor air ventilation rates; students learning and testing in classrooms with higher ventilation rates scored 14 to 15 percent higher on their standardized tests.
Simple changes can improve indoor air quality and thereby improve student productivity and retention. Many programs exist to encourage maintenance staff, teachers, and students to take small steps to produce big changes in the indoor environment. The nation’s most recognized program, the EPA’s Tools for Schools program, suggests taking simple steps such as: making sure vents in the classrooms are clear of clutter, reducing the amount of chemicals used in cleaning, and replacing ceiling tiles to reduce mold growth and dust build-up.
So next time you are brainstorming ways to help your students succeed, consider their physical environment! Also check out: http://epa.gov/iaq/schools/index.html and encourage your school’s staff to help maintain the indoor air quality.-Erika Rees