Educators Ready to Lead on Green Schools 'Day of Service'

Pat Nicholson has been a custodian for 30 years. He knows his way around the cleaning closet, and his favorite supplies are all environmentally friendly — but his favorite cleaning tool is likely his giant floor-scrubber he painted to look like a saber-toothed tiger.

The students at Brownsville Elementary are used to “Fang,” the prehistoric-themed cleaning machine roaming the halls, and they’re also used to stomping their feet before they’re allowed inside the building. This isn’t some bizarre, cave-dancing ritual — the children are part of the Green Clean movement, which aims to reduce toxins and harmful particles children are exposed to at school, and they’re stomping their feet to remove dust and dirt from their shoes.

In order to showcase how important clean and safe schools are, the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council is sponsoring the first-ever Green Apple Day of Service September 29. Educators, support professionals and other advocates will unite for one day to support healthy, safe and green schools.

On August 21, Nicholson and Kim Williams, both NEA members, will participate in a webinar to explain how they have been leaders in integrating green strategies in their schools. The webinar will also explain how other members can get involved in the day of service. You can register for the webinar now (use password Educator1).

Schools around the country are filled with dust and grime, and Nicholson is one of many NEA members trying to help students learn by modernizing their schools and keeping their students healthy.

Some buildings are so old they’re literally falling apart around their students. Christopher Meyer is a 7th grade social studies teacher at just such a school: Whenever it rains, he has to set buckets all over his classroom to catch the water gushing through the ceiling, and then he finds a new room to continue his class in.

“At one point I had a waterfall cascading into a light fixture in the ceiling,” Meyer said in an interview with NEA Today last year. “Kids were sitting in puddles in metal chairs as water hit exposed wires. They were like individual lightening rods. You can’t get any more dangerous that that.”

Late last year, NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen visited Southern Middle School in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Meyer teaches, and said crumbling schools are a national crisis. “The message these kids get when they look up and see their classroom ceiling leaking and falling in is, ‘I don’t matter,’” she said. “How can we expect students to achieve in this environment?”

A recent article in Parade magazine found that children attending schools in sub par conditions score up to 10 percentile points lower on standardized tests, even after controlling for poverty. Schools with poor infrastructure get too hot or too cold, or the deteriorating building distracts students, making it difficult for them to absorb information.

“We know that when the heat gets up to 78, 80 degrees, the learning curve drops precipitously,” Earthman said in the same Parade article.

Eskelsen said 35 percent of American schools are in poor condition, and according to a Department of Education survey, 43 percent of schools indicated the poor condition of the facilities interferes with the delivery of instruction.

“We need to repair our public schools to keep our children healthy and allow them to learn,” Eskelsen said.