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President's Viewpoint - The Need for Green Schools



By Dennis Van Roekel


Dennis Van Roekel

Photo by Sandy Schaeffer

Some clouds are lined with silver, but the cloud that hangs over our economy today might have a “green” lining. That is because an economic stimulus plan could provide an opportunity to modernize and upgrade our nation’s aging schools.

Green schools have many advantages. They can protect the environment, improve the health of students and educators, raise academic performance, and save money over the long run. Upgrading schools can also create new jobs, which our nation desperately needs right now.

The average school in America was built almost 50 years ago, and many suffer from poor indoor air quality, inadequate lighting, and ineffective heating and cooling. Our public schools need to spend an estimated $17 billion a year just to maintain their existing structures and grounds—and many schools are falling behind.

Twenty percent of the American population spends their days in school buildings, and one quarter of these students and school staff attend schools that are considered substandard or even dangerous to their health.

As educators, we know that the kind of place where children attend school is bound to have an impact on what they learn. A modern, well-equipped public school sends a message that education is important; a poorly designed and uncomfortable building sends a different message.

Enhancing school environments can help students concentrate on their work while reducing absenteeism. Studies have shown that students taught in classrooms with direct daylight produce higher test scores than those in classrooms with no natural light. Another study showed that improving indoor air quality can reduce outbreaks of asthma by almost 40 percent—asthma causes more absences from school than any other chronic illness.

Green schools are also a great teaching tool. If we want children to learn that human beings have a responsibility to be good stewards of natural resources, we have to teach them by example. Green schools protect the environment by reducing energy consumption an average of 33 percent. Over the lifespan of a school, this adds up to a lot of carbon emissions— and money.

With the “green approach,” schools conserve an average of $100,000 in energy costs every year. After upfront costs are recouped, this annual savings could pay for computers, textbooks, and educators’ salaries.

Green schools can also be a powerful engine for creating new jobs. A recent NEA analysis suggests that investing $20 billion over a five-year period for repair and maintenance of school facilities would support 50,000 jobs per year. And many economists believe that energy-related jobs and technology will be a major driving force in our 21st century economy.

Through long-term and careful planning, high quality educational environments can instill a sense of pride, engage students in learning, and encourage strong parental involvement. Every child and school employee has the right to a school with healthy air to breathe and conditions that foster academic success.

Even in today’s difficult economy, green schools are an idea whose time has come.

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Published In

1-Mar-09


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