Transforming School Environments

Contributing author, Tolle Graham, MassCOSH.

Many schools around Boston have trophy cases full or winning teams and record-breaking athletes. Yet these schools are now also home to equally deserving champions who are fighting to help staff and students with asthma breath with ease.

Thanks to a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing asthma triggers, MassCOSH, the Health and Wellness & Facilities Departments of Boston Public Schools, the Boston Public Health Commission, and the Boston Healthy Homes and School Collaborative were recently able to introduce Boston’s first Healthy School Champions. These school staff members-turned-indoor air quality advocates are helping to ensure existing environmental policies are followed as well as incorporating other important practices that make schools healthier places to work and learn.

This program is welcome news given school workers have some of the highest rates of occupational asthma. Healthy School Champions consist of teachers, parents, nurses and school custodians who go through a series of training’s on best practices for reducing asthma triggers including pests, clutter, recycling better and managing work orders.

Currently, there are Healthy School Champion teams at the Mather Elementary School, Blackstone Elementary, CASH, Trotter, Nathan Hale, Lee Pilot Academy, Adams Elementary,  JFK Elementary & Madison Park High School.

“Thanks to these partnerships with these schools, MassCOSH and these healthy schools Champions were able to disseminate some really easy steps to everyone at these schools regarding simple steps they can take to improving their work environment,” said MassCOSH Healthy Schools Coordinator Tolle Graham.

At the Blackstone Elementary School, Custodian Kevin Moriarity has been an integral part of the Healthy School Champions team. The custodian completed the Green Cleaning Swap Out within a day of joining the Health School Champions team, replacing toxic cleaning products that a teacher may have purchased for their classroom with a certified green cleaner provided by the District. Moriarity also promoted recycling as a means of de-cluttering old teaching supplies to reduce asthma triggers within the school.

Green cleaning supply swap at the Blackstone School. Every teacher could take a bottle with approved green cleaner and paper towels.

“As a custodian I want to help out and do as much as I can to make the school healthy and safe for the children. It’s all about the children,” said Moriarity, adding that there is ‘always room for improvement’ when it comes to indoor air quality.

Blackstone Elementary School is not the only one using its staff’s skill sets to promote wellness. At the Trotter Elementary School, Healthy School Champions used its school nurse to a lead an asthma education training for teachers. They were also supplied with green certified cleaners for their classrooms.

Other Healthy School Champions have conducted clutter clean-outs, recycled old computers, papers, and books. The removal of these items reduces the number of places that pests can hide and dust can collect. Teachers were also reminded to not let food sit out overnight, as this attracts pests whose hair and waste can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

“Quite frankly, teachers are under so much stress these days and have so much to do, we have to be a creative as possible to figure out a way to help improve the environment without giving them more work and we think this is how we can do that,” said Graham

MassCOSH aims to expand the Healthy School Champion program to more BPS schools this fall.