Education Support Professionals, Teachers Talk Indoor Air Quality

By Lance Fuller

Amy Courson-Brock likens herself to a canary.

Although she may not sing in mines to help miners detect deadly gases, she advocates for cleaner air quality in public schools.

About four years ago, the windows in her classroom at Heritage Elementary in Homer, Ill., were shortened with some sections replaced with regular dry wall. Shortly after the renovation, Courson-Brock became sick. As someone with seasonal allergies and asthma, she shrugged it off only to develop numerous cases of bronchitis, upper respiratory infections and sinus problems that caused her to miss weeks of school at a time.

To this day, Courson-Brock, a fourth grade teacher with 23 years experience, has no idea as to the exact cause of her illnesses. The only connection she could make was that when she was at school, she was sick, and at home, she would be fine the same day.

“When I started getting sick all the time, I started doubting myself a lot,” she says, breathing heavily. “I was convinced to go home when I was sick, but once I got home, I felt guilty because I felt fine, but wanted to be there with my kids. Teaching is what I do and what I love. I don’t know what else I’d do. It was a no-win situation and I was in limbo.”

Over the next several years, several students and about eight staff members at Heritage developed similar breathing problems. Convinced that it was no longer just her problem, Courson-Brock created Best Educational Environment Possible (BEEP), an outreach organization that advocates for better air quality in schools.

Earlier this month, Courson-Brock spoke to teachers, custodians and other ESPs from around the country at the NEA Health Information Network’s 8th annual Indoor Air Quality Pre-Symposium.

The event provided NEA members strategies from the union and association perspectives on how to organize around the issue of poor indoor environmental air quality.

About 87 teachers, ESPs and administrators representing 16 states attended the event and covered topics such as forming health and safety committees, conducting school walkthroughs, administering health and hazard surveys, building coalitions, and how to deal with a difficult or unsupportive administrations, event organizer Jennie Young said.

The pre-symposium was followed by the EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium that centered around helping schools assess, resolve and prevent indoor air quality (IAQ) problems and reduce exposure to asthma triggers.

Many schools throughout the country are taking a more serious approach to IAQ problems by utilizing technology to asses them.

“We monitor that [indoor air quality] by computer in our offices,” says custodian Terri Lortie of New Haven, Ind.

Custodian Pat Nicholson of Brownsville Elementary in Washington state noted that the pre-symposium served as an outstanding opportunity for teachers and ESPs to network and apply what they learned in their respective states.

“I just hope that those who are experiencing illness at school will also have a chance to improve their situation and have people who will support them through tough times,” Courson-Brock says. “It doesn’t matter what your role is because in education, we’re all working toward the same goal so a child can achieve an education in the best environment possible.”