Making schools healthier for our children

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Two young blonde children in a school environment.

From fall through spring, school is a full-time job for most children in the U.S. Every day, kids wake up early and get ready for school, rarely realizing that they are preparing to be the next generation that will write our laws and run our businesses — hopefully with an eye toward ultimately improving the environment for the better. With so much relying on how students do while attending school, you might expect the investment into school safety standards to be high.

Unfortunately, not all schools offer students the same opportunities for a successful education. In order for children to be able to focus on their classes and to be prepared to learn each day, they need to feel good and be in a space that allows them to do so. However, some schools don’t provide enough basic provisions for their students to be at their best each day.

Raising Safety Awareness

A child’s health is one of the biggest things that can affect their ability to learn throughout each day. In the U.S., 37% of children have at least one health condition, such as allergies, asthma, anxiety, depression, autism, or other genetic disorders, many of which are exacerbated by poor environmental conditions. However, according to a report by the Children’s Health Fund, there are over 20 million children that don’t have access to the healthcare they need. Millions of children suffering from various health conditions admit that their condition impacts their daily activities.

Although fixing the healthcare system is a different issue in and of itself, school administrators must provide safe facilities that are free of dangers and run on green energy in order to avoid putting their students at risk of injury or exacerbating existing conditions. Among other safety measures, schools must implement an asbestos management plan to meet government regulations for the safety of their students. This requires schools to be inspected regularly to minimize the risk of exposure to their students and the environment.

Demanding Social Justice

Without following these types of regulations carefully, students run the risk of suffering from long-term illnesses related to the extended exposure of harmful chemicals. One that occurs as a result of a faulty asbestos management plan includes mesothelioma; experts believe asbestos to be the main cause of this disease. As little as a few months of exposure can result in the disease, which is caused when asbestos fibers infiltrate the chest and lungs. 

While this is a risk in any building, there are several additional issues that can be dangerous for students who often spend a third of their day at school. This includes the lack of resources — not only to healthy food but to clean drinking water. In 2014, Flint, Michigan tried to save money by switching their water source from Detroit’s water to the water from the Flint River. For years, citizens have lacked clean drinking water, and schools have been no different. These are extremely unsafe conditions for students to attend school in.

Developing Greener Schools

Although clean drinking water should be a human right, socioeconomic issues can prevent this from being the case. However, access to clean drinking water is required as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Measures like the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program acknowledge that, for students to be able to focus on their schoolwork, they need access to food that will give them the energy they need to pay attention to their classes.

One way to develop greener schools is by paying close attention to the materials we allow inside them and the processes that are prioritized each day to create a safe environment for students. This includes providing safe water and a safe building, in addition to being thoughtful about the chemicals we use to keep these environments clean. Schools should ensure that their cleaning products don’t contain harmful chemicals that could pose dangers to their students or the environment. 

Schools should be a safe haven for students and provide them with a secure and comfortable place for them to have every opportunity to learn that a school can offer. This means their environment needs to be free of dangerous chemicals and that they must have access to basic necessities like clean drinking water. However, when this is not the case, parents and administrators must raise awareness about these issues to the public. They should petition lawmakers to prioritize student access to resources that will help them have the education they deserve.

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