When my high school turned green last year, I can’t say I jumped up and down with excitement. Sure, it was cool to join in the hot trend of recycling our lunch trash and bringing our own water bottles. And our LEED certified buildings looked much better. Still, to me, the whole green school thing wasn’t much more than a politically correct move that could help save the planet in a few decades. I had no clue my green school could also improve my education. But I’m learning: Studies show that a school that’s good for the environment is better for academic performance, too!
If you’ve seen the recent documentary “Waiting for Superman,” you know that America’s public schools are in crisis with dwindling budgets, problem teachers and struggling students. With all these complicated problems to solve, I bet politicians and education reformers aren’t thinking much about the color of the trash cans or the quality of the buildings. But maybe they should. According to the EPA, a healthy school environment “can improve health, increase students’ ability to learn, improve test scores, and improve adult productivity in the school system.” Other studies have supported this link between sustainability and learning ability and schools all over have taken action and are seeing results.
In my school, our new green library has sun streaming through the glass windows, which I’m so thankful for. I’m relieved there are no more ugly fluorescent lights to waste energy and highlight a bad acne breakout. But it turns out the daylight is more than just flattering.
“Daylighting has positive psychological and physiological effects,” according to James R. Benya, a lighting designer and consultant who conducted the original groundbreaking study proving the connection between natural light and student performance. Another study found that students in classrooms with natural light advanced 20% faster in one year on math exams, and 26% faster in one year on reading tests, than those in classrooms without enough daylight.
And how many students think about the air they breathe? I don’t, unless it’s unusually stuffy or someone takes off her shoes. In fact, I didn’t even realize my school’s commitment to eliminate toxic air pollutants until I read about it on my school website. It freaked me out to learn how the air quality in our classrooms can affect our health. The Environmental Protection Agency says that “sick building syndrome” causes all kinds of health problems in school kids, like respiratory infections, headaches, nausea, asthma and fatigue. The connection is subtle but logical: if the air makes kids and teachers sick, they’re absent more often and their performance goes down. In fact, one new study by Douglas E. Gordon reveals that improving air quality through environmentally sustainable cleaning technology can decrease absences by over 8% in some cases.
Sustainable schools use 33% less energy and about 43% less water each year. If all new schools were designed green, energy savings alone would add up to $20 billion in the next decade! That sounds like a number America’s school systems could use.
Of course, I realize that solving the educational crisis is more complicated than greening the schools. But with 14 million kids across the country attending schools considered “substandard”, or even harmful to their health, and 15,000 schools in the US yet to go green, it does seem like we could go a long way toward improving the situation. After all, there is no superman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Isabel DeBre is a high school freshman. She loves learning about global and humanitarian causes and is so excited to be a young voice in Care2′s public conversation on the issues that will affect her generation for years to come.
Andrew Wilson School Classroomhttp://www.globalgreen.org/greenurbanism/schools/