We live in a time where, more than ever, the importance of healthy schools is paramount.
As disruptive as the federal stay-at-home orders are for many families, it can be especially harmful for families and caregivers who rely on schools to provide essential services for their children. As the lines outside of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Grab and Go sites indicate, thousands of families rely on schools to provide meals for their children. According to one statistic, almost 30 million children in America receive 1 or more of their meals at school. This number swells in size when we account for after-school provider meals, summer meals, and school breakfasts. This is especially important as we consider that almost 1 in every 5 children in America experiences childhood hunger and family food insecurity; and that children represent 45% of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program recipients. For many American families, school meals are some of the only reliable food they can access for their children.
A growing number of children access most of their health services from schools across over 1,500 school-based health care sites. Preliminary research suggests that schools function as the ‘de facto mental health system for children and adolescents’, with 70-80% of all child and adolescent mental health services delivered in a school setting – making schools one of the only places where children can receive mental health and behavioral supports.
It is clear that schools are essential institutions for entire communities. Schools are also front-line sites that deliver essential public health services, including monitoring health status of individuals in our community; informing, educating, and empowering families about their health; mobilizing community partnerships to solve community health problems; linking individuals and families to health services and health insurance; and educating a competent health workforce for the future.
Children spend over 1,000 hours a year in their school buildings. This is the setting, outside of the home, where children spend the most time learning, growing, and playing. While they are in school they are learning not just their assigned subject areas, but they are learning how to live in a world with other people, how to resolve conflict, how to grow, and change and adapt. While they are in school, our children are growing into the artists, scientists, leaders, problem-solvers, change-makers, and innovators of the future.
Advocating for healthy schools is not just about ‘green school’ aesthetics. It’s not just about sustainability, or equitable consumption of resources, or carbon footprints. Healthy schools are about – at the end of the day, our work is always about – our children, their health, and their success. Working towards healthy schools also means advocating for and assuring the good health and wellness of the people who care for our children. We believe strongly in the research that suggests that student health is foundational to student success.
We want children to return to schools that are prepared to meet their needs. In this moment, we are learning a lot about what changes we will need to make to support our students, our teachers, and our school staff in the future. When schools re-open, we want them to be equipped to be successful in meeting the needs of every child. Every child deserves a healthy school where they can learn, grow, and play. Every child deserves the right to learn in a safe and toxic-free setting. Every parent, educator, and school staff person deserves the comfort of knowing that school buildings are free of mold, environmental hazards like lead, radon, and asbestos, and pests.
In order to make this a reality, we need equitable distribution of resources.
We need committed fiscal investment into our aging public school infrastructure.
We need to prioritize support for school staff, including school nurses, school psychologists, behavioral therapists, food services workers, and facilities, custodial, and maintenance staff.
We need to come together, as advocates, parents, neighbors, educators, and decision-makers, to support our shared vision of healthy schools for every child.
Integrated Pest Management 101
IPM, or integrated pest management, is a safe, effective, and scientific approach to managing pests. IPM uses knowledge of pests’ habits and needs to help implement pest prevention tactics first, and uses pesticides only when necessary selecting effective pesticide products that pose the least risk of exposure to people and the environment.
Pests in schools can destroy property, contaminate food, bite or sting people, and worsen other health issues. For example, certain pest infestations can trigger or worsen asthma incidence, and pests can spread infectious and deadly diseases. However, routine pesticide use, particularly sprays, may lead to unacceptable chemical exposure risks. Children spend approximately 1,100 hours per year in school buildings. Kids are especially sensitive to some pesticides because of their small size and developing bodies. Parents, health care workers, and school officials are increasingly looking to reduce potential student and staff exposures to toxins in the school setting.
IPM use in schools considers the causes of pest infestations and focuses on preventative tactics. IPM provides more effective and longer-term control. IPM uses routine inspections with intervention only when necessary. Therefore, pesticide treatments, if needed, are reduced and limited to pest hot spots, or are eliminated altogether.
Because IPM also seeks to reduce children’s pesticide exposure, less risky products and formulations are selected. Additional benefits of IPM include more effective pest management, reduced clutter, improved cleanliness, and better energy efficiency in buildings due to proper maintenance.
Did you know?
PA state law requires school and childcare centers to use IPM techniques and tools to reduce chemical exposure for students and staff. 48 hour notice must be given to school community members and surrounding neighbors, as well as residents on the Hypersensitivity Registry, prior to chemical pesticide application. Click here or more information on the Hypersensitivity Registry or the PA IPM for Schools Program.
Why we support IPM in Schools and Childcare Centers
- IPM Protects Health
By reducing the use of chemical pesticide exposures, we are protecting the health of our children and school and childcare center professionals. An NHANES study found that children aged 6-11 carry the most amount of pesticide exposure nationally – more than any other age group. Our children’s health is foundational to their success in school – allowing them to develop cognitive and social skills and achieve academic success.
- IPM Protects the Environment
IPM promotes the use of alternative products and safer chemical formulations when pesticides are necessary. Botanical active products, for example, use essential oils derived from plants who use these oils to protect themselves from bugs. These botanical-based products are safer for our waterways and animal and marine life.
- IPM Prevents Pesticide-resistant Bugs and Weeds
Overuse of chemical pesticides such as pyrethoids can create pests and weeds that are resistant to chemicals. This means that if these pests return to the same location, you will need different, stronger, or a mix of more chemicals to deter them. Using evidence-based techniques to monitor and repel pests is always best.
We’ll be celebrating all month long as we launch our Pesticide Action Toolkit and host our second Integrated Pest Management training for school and childcare center staff. To learn more about our Toolkit, click here. To register for our upcoming training, click here.
Colder winter months often mean less time outdoors and more time feeling cooped up in our homes – making it an excellent time for an art project! Arts and crafts are a great way to get inspired and create something new. This month, we wanted to share fun and earth-friendly crafts that can be enjoyed by children, families, and classrooms! Sometimes crafting can require using a lot of new materials, and messy crafts often create a lot of waste. These crafts are the perfect solution – they can be made from materials you already own, they encourage us to appreciate the beauty of nature, and some of them are even helpful in supporting our local wildlife!
What is upcycling? It’s taking something you already own and no longer use and turning it into something new. In doing this, the result is often more valuable and beautiful than it previously was!
Wondering if there’s something you can do with old tin cans? With this craft, you can create adorable planters and bring outdoor life into your home!
This craft turns an old milk carton into the new favorite hangout spot for birds in your yard, as well as providing these feathered friends with food in scarce winter months.
These crafts utilize natural resources as crafting materials, allowing you bring some of the beauty of nature into your home!
These bookmarks are a unique way to preserve leaves and flowers from your yard. This craft becomes not only a bookmark, but also a keepsake—and all you need are some leaves and laminating sheets!
Collect leaves from your community and make these creative lanterns! This craft can bring illumination, ambiance, and beauty to your home in cold evenings.
Wildlife Friendly Crafts
Furry or feathered friends in your yard will thank you for these crafts!
In these colder winter months, we can share our bounty with those around us – including the feathered friends in our yards and communities! The birds you see in these colder months are those that have decided to stay in the area as opposed to migrating south, and a little generosity can go a long way!
Ever had a bird fly into your window at home? You can prevent these kinds of bird injuries by creating a bird deflector for your windows and helping birds differentiate between glass and open space!
- For all of your crafting needs, we recommend shopping at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, located at the intersection of Wilkinsburg, Homewood, and Point Breeze! You can find an endless variety of materials here—all of which have been previously used, recycled, or donated—for incredibly cheap!
- Have you ever asked yourself: “How do I reuse _________?” This website has infinite ideas for you! https://craftingagreenworld.com/reuse-resources/
As we enter our fifth year of programming at Healthy Schools PA, we are BEYOND excited to introduce our “Eco-Student’s Guide to Healthy Schools” workbook. The workbook, designed to be a student companion to our Healthy Schools Recognition Program, is an interactive guided inquiry into the systems that keep our school buildings running.
Using an investigative journalism lens, and with the goal of promoting science communication skills and environmental health literacy, the workbook was designed to be used with upper elementary and middle school students.
The workbook is a tool to help students investigate and learn about the different ways our school interacts with the environment. Our school buildings and the ways we use it can impact both our planet and our health in different ways.
In other words: when we protect our environment, we are also protecting our health.
Across the country, schools are working towards a sustainable future. Sustainability in schools means using practices that meet our current needs without making it more difficult for people in the future to meet their own needs. Schools can make huge impacts on our environment due to their size, because it takes a lot of resources to keep our school buildings running, such as energy that comes from renewable and non-renewable sources, water that comes from our local rivers, and food to feed every student.
This workbook will not only help you determine the ways your school is impacting the environment, but also spark your own ideas for eco-friendly changes you can make in your home, classroom, school, and community. Even small actions, such as switching out light bulbs for more efficient ones, can make a HUGE difference! Every sustainable act is a step in the right direction for a sustainable future.
We hope you take a chance to explore our workbook and have an opportunity to use it in your own classroom!
Our 4th Annual Healthy Schools Summit was our biggest gathering yet! With over 60 educators, school administrators, parents, school board members, school facilities and custodial staff and community partners – we were so happy to host members representing each part of our growing network of healthy school advocates.
Erika Eitland, a PhD candidate and Program Manager of the Harvard University School of Public Health’s national laboratory for Schools for Health, was our keynote speaker. She shared the research linking the importance of healthy school buildings to student health, student cognition, and student academic performance. She also shared how making investments in school buildings can bring large, impactful returns on student wellness as a whole.
We also invited local leaders in school sustainability to join us for a Panel Discussion on what it takes to build healthy schools. Christine Schott, parent and Sustainability Coordinator for the Steel Valley School District shared her stories of success advocating for outdoor and garden education for all students in the district, as well some big wins for a district-wide recycling program! Jake Douglas, Food Services Director at Deer Lakes School District, discussed how the district makes it a priority to reduce waste in the lunchroom and support local farmers in their purchasing. Cassandra Brown, a school nurse at PPS Arsenal K-8 got a round of laughs and applause when she discussed her “Be a Thinker, Not a Stinker” program to improve personal hygiene education and access to a growing international student body population – bringing together innovative partnerships into the school to meet student needs in an empowering way. Vicki Ammar, a high school teacher at PPS Perry High School rounded out our panel, sharing an educator’s perspective for bringing partnerships and starting new initiatives within a school.
We had a networking and fun-filled working lunch, with Tracey Reed Armant, Program Officer at The Grable Foundation, presenting on “How to Write a Successful School Grant” from a Funder’s perspective.
In the afternoon, we split into workshops to dive more in-depth. Katie Modic, of Communitopia, led our Educator Workshop, “Teaching Resiliency in the Classroom” which focused on hands-on climate education and bringing environmental justice into the classroom. Donnan Stoicovy, of State College Friends School, shared her school’s Zero-Waste journey and engaged participants in an interactive decision-making game for different school sustainability initiatives. LaKeisha Wolf, Director of Ujamaa/ Collective, and Monte Robinson, Community Schools Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Public Schools co-led our Parent and Partner Workshop on Engaging Parents and Partners for Healthy Schools. We all come to this work from different ways, and building on our shared goals has been central to pushing initiatives forward.
We left the Summit feeling excited for new connections, inspired by local rolemodels, and re-energized to continue the work towards building a healthy school for every child in our region!
To see presentations and workshop handouts from the Summit, please email Kara Rubio at Kara@WomenforaHealthyEnvironment.Org
My name is Evelyn, and I’m the newest addition to the Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE) team! I am serving with WHE as an AmeriCorps member until June 2020. AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that take different approaches to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. My AmeriCorps program is called KEYS, which stands for Knowledge to Empower Youth to Success and is focused specifically on serving at-risk youth in Allegheny County through mentoring, tutoring, and community service in a variety of schools and community organizations. While KEYS members have been serving in Pittsburgh since 1995, I just moved here in August from Northern Virginia after obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in social work from James Madison University. I am incredibly excited to be serving here in such a diverse and lively city
Through the KEYS program, my role with WHE is to facilitate Eco-Schools programming in Pittsburgh public schools. Eco-Schools is a program of the National Wildlife Federation that focuses on environment-based learning and hands-on experiences to empower students to make sustainable choices in their homes, schools, and communities. Students learn about air quality, water, energy, consumption, and other topic areas before brainstorming a school-wide project with the intent to improve their school’s environmental impact and become more sustainable.
Eco-Schools is the largest global sustainable schools program, reaching more than 50,000 schools worldwide! However, currently no Pittsburgh Public Schools are certified eco-schools. Our goal is to get a least one of these schools (if not more!) to become a certified eco-school before the 2019-2020 school year comes to an end. Through this program, schools have found creative and innovative ways to recycle, conserve, and reduce environmental impacts, which can have positive effects school-wide and ripple into the community as well!
We have recently started our programming in Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood. We are enrichment partners with The Maker’s Clubhouse after-school program, and work with a group of 3rd-5th graders every Monday and Tuesday. Using STEAM and hands-on curriculum, these eco-students have explored the biodiversity on their school grounds, designed landfill liners, constructed towers out of recyclable items, conducted a school-wide energy audit, and learned about how our lungs work to defend our bodies against pollutants!
Next week, our students will learn about water quality and pollution, and will then attempt to construct their own water filters! Within a few weeks our students will be brainstorming project ideas for school sustainability. Whether our students choose to install rain barrels, create a pollinator garden, or start school-wide initiatives to conserve energy, our overall goal for this program is to teach our students that they can make positive changes in their schools and neighborhoods and empower them to continue to make sustainable choices to improve the overall well-being of their communities.
Integrated Pest Management 101
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) revolves around six essential components: monitoring, recordkeeping, action levels, prevention, tactics criteria, and evaluation.
IPM is a program that reduces or eliminates the use of pesticides in order to minimize the toxicity of and exposure to harmful chemicals.
Over-reliance on pesticides exposes children and staff to dangerous chemicals. School IPM is a powerful tool for addressing these challenges. In fact, schools transitioning to IPM have reduced pest complaints and pesticide use by over 70%!
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school IPM as a proven approach for creating healthy, safe spaces for students and staff.
Who regulates IPM programs in Pennsylvania? What are schools required to do?
School districts, intermediate units, area vocational-technical schools, and childcare centers are considered public places. As such, they are required by state law (Act 36 of 2002) to develop an IPM plan. The Pennsylvania IPM Program is administered by the Penn State Extension.
School IPM requirements are enforced by the Health and Safety program of the Department of Agriculture (PDA). This program manages the registration of pesticide products as well as the certification of pesticide applicators. There are regional PDA offices that manage pesticide applicator licenses – and only licensed applicators are allowed to spray pesticides on school grounds. In addition, schools are required to post clear signage on school grounds and communicate with the school community about the dates of pesticide application (at least 72 hours before application is scheduled to begin).
What does the research say about pesticides and children’s health?
Pesticides can cause short and long term health risks. Exposure can lead to pesticide poisoning, which is under-diagnosed in the U.S. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, about 10,000 children experience pesticide poisoning each year. Nationally, children between 6-11 years are found to have higher levels of pesticide residue in their bodies than any other group of people.
Of the 40 most commonly used pesticides in schools, 28 are known carcinogens, 14 are linked with
endocrine disruption, and 26 could lead to adverse reproductive effects. Recent research shows the use of RoundUp, a popular pesticide containing glyphosate, is becoming more and more common in schools. The World Health Organization declared in 2015 that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.
What is the Hypersensitivity Registry and how do I sign myself/my child/my family members up?
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) maintains a registry of individuals
hypersensitive to pesticides. It is a listing of locations for people who have been verified by a
physician to be excessively or abnormally sensitive to pesticides. These hypersensitive individuals
may request to have listings of their home, place of employment, school (if a student), and vacation
home placed in the Registry.
Once you are listed in the Registry, pesticide businesses are required to make notifications to you
12 to 72 hours in advance of any pesticide application to an attached structure or an outdoor above
ground application that they may make within 500 feet of any location that you have listed in the
Registry. The notification may be made by speaking to an adult through personal contact, by
telephone contact, leaving a message on your answering device, by certified mail, by posting a
notice on the front door at the listed location or speaking to an adult at the alternate phone number
you listed in the Registry.
The business must provide you their: business name, address, telephone number, the
pesticide brand name and common name (if available), EPA Registration number of the pesticide,
the location of the application and the proposed date and time of the application. The proposed
application time may not exceed a 24-hour period.
Obtain an application, which is available online, from your local
pesticide businesses, or by contacting any PDA Office (listed on the back). Make arrangements with
someone to be your alternate contact point. This person must be willing to receive calls when
applicators cannot contact you directly and forward the information on to you.
What else can I do as a concerned parent/teacher/student/school administrator/community member?
Meet with your school’s PTA and administrative office to ask about their IPM policies. PA state regulations require schools to implement IPM plans and alert parents and staff of chemical pesticide application prior to use. Request your school district to list the pest management company they use when pesticide application is required, and have them publicly share a list of pesticides to be used prior to application.
Work with your local Parent Teacher Association and school administration office to encourage your school to adopt a “no pesticides” policy for school grounds and help choose safer alternatives for pesticides when pesticides must be used.
Ensure that staff applying pesticides in your school are licensed by the state of PA. IPM plans often fail because school staff are not properly educated on the purpose and benefits of IPM strategies as opposed to pesticides.
Healthy Schools PA is proud to offer free technical assistance and training to school districts who want to create stronger IPM programs in their schools or child care centers. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more!
You may have remembered learning about ozone in elementary school. Ozone is a odorless and clear gas made up of 3 oxygen atoms. Ozone gas makes up an entire layer in our atmosphere, where it protects our Earth from harmful UV rays. A few years ago, scientists and citizens grew concerned about an emerging hole in the ozone layer. Recent studies show that our ozone layer is repairable and that the hole in our ozone layer is closing year by year.
Ozone can also form closer to the ground. Ground-level ozone is created through a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). NOx and VOCs are released by cars, power plants, refineries, and other industrial sources. When heated by sunlight, ground-level ozone is created. This is why ground-level ozone levels can get especially high during warm, sunny days.
What are the health effects of ozone?
Ozone is harmful to both humans and the environment. Exposure to ground-level ozone can create many respiratory problems in all individuals, including wheezing, cough, chest pain, throat and nose irritation, and inflammation. Long-term exposure to ozone can actually scar lung tissue and damage your lungs. Children are especially vulnerable to high ground-level ozone because they are lower to the ground, breathe more air per pound, and their lungs are still developing.
Ozone can also negatively affect the health of active adults, the elderly, and those with immune-compromised diseases and asthma.
Take action to protect your health on high ozone days.
There are several actions you can take to protect your and your loved one’s health during days where ground-level ozone is high.
- Staying indoors and avoiding high-exertion activities are recommended.
- Carpool with friends and family members if you are running errands or getting places.
- For children with asthma, make sure asthma controller medication is nearby or taken before going outside.
- Avoid burning wood fires or burning trash.
- Conserve electricity and avoid doing yard work with gasoline-fueled tools.
More and more recently, PA schools are opting to install artificial turf sports fields without considering the benefits of a natural grass field.
Often, the arguments against natural grass fields rely on the perceived costs and efforts of maintaining a natural grass field. But natural grass fields, when maintained with a specialized plan combining best practices of drainage, soil aeration, and grass selection, can sustain high usage while reducing hours of maintenance. Best of all, grass fields are often safer and healthier for student athletes to play on. We have come a long way in understanding the science behind maintaining a successful high-use grass sports field, including choosing grass that fits your school’s unique environment, and using innovative techniques so that groundskeepers and field managers work smarter, not harder.
You can watch our video with pediatrician and children’s environmental health expert Dr. Phil Landrigan discussing artificial turf in schools here.
Artificial turf fields can come with a host of unintended negative consequences. Depending on the in-fill material, artificial turf fields can release a long list of toxins when heated. Crumb rubber, made from recycled tires, and synthetic rubber, remain the most common in-fill materials for artificial turf fields. When heated, these rubber-based fillers can release 1,3-Butadiene, a major chemical component of tires – that burnt rubber tire smell – and a known carcinogen. Butadiene is not the only chemical released when rubber in-fill is heated; a meta-analysis by the Environment and Human Health Inc. found 92 chemicals of which 11 are known carcinogens.
Another health hazard that comes with artificial turf fields are the extreme temperatures that they can reach. On hot days, artificial turf fields absorb and hold heat, and can reach temperatures up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit really quickly. A turf field study by the University of Arkansas found that when the outdoor ambient temperature was 98 degrees Fahrenheit, an artificial turf field read at 199 degrees Fahrenheit – 100 degrees hotter! These sustained high temperatures have caused heat stroke and dehydration for student athletes, especially for younger school-aged children who are playing hard.
Lastly, artificial turf fields also need to be maintained. If in-fill isn’t continuously replaced, the risk for concussions can increase. The in-fill pieces are small and can be kicked up, cause scrapes and bruises. Turf fields also use a variety of chemicals to be maintained. Since most artificial grass and in-fill are made of flammable materials, harmful flame retardants are often added. Disinfectants are also sprayed on these fields as a recommended preventive maintenance activity.
Some communities are beginning to proactively ban crumb rubber artificial turf fields. If your school is looking for a new sports field to sustain high-use and longer play times, push your school board, athletic directors, and buildings and grounds directors to consider some alternatives. The Toxic Use Reduction Institute has an evidence-based booklet presenting the newest evidence and comparing different in-fill alternatives.
We are excited to join together with the Healthy Schools Network to celebrate National Healthy Schools Day this year! National Healthy Schools Day is a celebration of the progress we’ve made so far – but also a call to action to continue our work towards our shared goal of “a healthy school for every child”.
At Healthy Schools PA, we work collaboratively with parents, teachers, custodians, and school administrators every day as we strive towards this goal. Whether we’re teaching in classrooms, speaking at faculty and school board meetings, or providing technical support to school districts across Southwestern PA, we are constantly reminded of how special working in the school environment is. There are so many unique opportunities for folks to get engaged, get involved, and take action in their schools!
In September 2018, we released a first-of-its-kind report, “The State of Environmental Health in Southwestern PA Schools”, taking a deep look at how our schools were addressing environmental health concerns such as asthma, radon, lead, and air quality. This report highlighted the need for us to support our school districts at a federal, state, and regional level so that they have the resources and education necessary to make decisions about creating healthier school environments. We are tireless advocates for smart policy decisions that not only provide guidelines for schools to implement healthier practices, but that also provide appropriate resources for schools to enact real, long-lasting change.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Heinz Endowments, we have been able to impact change in schools across our region through our 1,000 Hours of Lead and Radon Free Schools and Childcares program. Working together with school districts, we have provided financial and technical support to schools and childcare centers to test and remediate the lead and radon hazards in their buildings. We have partnered with schools every step of the way, from scheduling testing and creating a drinking water or radon sampling plan, to interpreting test results, to providing different options for remediation according to the EPA’s federal guidelines. What we’ve learned from these projects and these processes is that it takes collaboration across departments to make sustainable change. Change comes when we empower school community members to ask questions, get educated on the issues, and make informed decisions together, in an open, transparent process.
Next May, we are celebrating the 4th year of our annual Healthy Schools Recognition Program – highlighting the efforts individual schools and districts are taking to ensure that children have a healthy place to learn, grow, and play. If you or your school are taking steps to be green or healthy, we’d love to hear and celebrate your story and help you along your journey!
Every child deserves a healthy school. Join us as we make this a reality for schools across PA and across our nation!