Coalition for Healthier Schools, 2016.

Healthy schools help children grow and learn. But providing children with healthy places to learn is too often an afterthought—or not thought of at all. School facilities have been neglected for decades. Towards Healthy Schools: Reducing Risks to Children is the fourth in a series of triennial state of the states’ reports

from Healthy Schools Network and its partners in the Coalition for Healthier Schools, dating from 2006. Previous reports assessed state-by-state environmental health hazards at schools, offered compelling personal narratives from parents and teachers, and provided data needed to assess the subsequent impact on children’s health. The last report, Towards Healthy Schools 2015, went deeper into specific issues such as asthma, and fracking and well water, while also using federal poverty statistics—e.g., the number of children in a school eligible for free or reduced-price meals—as a proxy for poverty and to highlight essential inequities and injustices. It also highlighted how greener, cleaner, healthier schools promote attendance and achievement. Yet, no state publishes information regarding children at risk due to school and/or child care center environmental hazards. To drive home the national scope of the hidden environmental health crisis faced by children, this new report features published media reports on environmental conditions from every state in the nation. From Alabama, where Bay Minette parents threatened to keep their children home to avoid exposing them to asbestos, to Wyoming, where grass fires endangered students at South High, it is a disturbing summary, highlighting the fact that across the country teachers, parents, and guardians, and the children themselves, face numerous and serious unexamined and unaddressed risks to health and learning which are rarely acknowledged by public agencies.

By: Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr.

Green buildings, green cleaning, school gardens, and green playgrounds are just a few of the prevalent concepts on the mind of education facility planners and many educational administrators. Just what is this green movement all about? How does a school or a district go green? Is there a checklist that lets an administrator know they have reached the goal of a green school? The simple answer to these questions is that a school or district can do as little or as much as they desire. What is important is that they do something. We all must work together to take steps for a greener school. The terms “green” and “sustainability” are often used interchangeably, and these words imply the need for focusing on conserving resources and creating healthy environments for everyone. Green and sustainable facilities typically have lower life-cycle costs and can demonstrate that they are more energy efficient than their non-green counterparts. Lets examine some of the different ways a school or division can go green.

One way a school or division can go green is to construct facilities that are high performing and sustainable or renovate older facilities to bring them up to standard. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is not the only organization that recognizes sustainable facilities; however, it is probably the most widely known. The USGBC has established LEED awards for facilities that are considered high performing and sustainable. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. While a commitment to a high performance building starts with the owner, it is the design team that includes the components into the new construction or renovation plan to qualify the facility for LEED. There are differing levels of LEED certification depending upon the number of features incorporated into the site and facility. The USGBC recognizes four different levels of LEED: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The ratings are based on a point system, and facility owners should decide which level of certification they desire before the design or retrofit process begins. While LEED certification may result in higher design and construction costs, incorporating LEED features into a facility will ultimately lower the operational costs over the life of the building. For more information on LEED certification or the USGBC, please visit .

Another tool to assist in going green is green cleaning. Green cleaning differs from traditional cleaning methods with regard to the solutions and equipment that are used to carry out the cleaning process. The green cleaning process does not utilize toxic chemical-based solutions that have often been used. These cleaning methods have been replaced with solutions such as ionized water. Mops and towels have been replaced with their micro-fiber counterparts. Higher costs and lower efficacy were once cited as reasons not to engage in the green cleaning process. As the solutions and equipment for green cleaning have advanced, these arguments are no longer valid. With the increased efficacy and the minimum or cost-neutral impact of green cleaning, this form of cleaning is something that every school and district should consider. In addition to these considerations, green cleaning is an environmentally friendly alternative to the caustic chemicals used in traditional methods of cleaning. By eliminating the chemical-based cleaners that have been used in the past, there has been a noted decrease in absenteeism from both students and staff. (Issa, Rankin,, 2011)  Just as the decision to construct a high performing building rests with the owner, support from the top down to the custodial staff is essential to develop an effective, sustained green cleaning program. For more information on how to initiate a green cleaning program in your school or division, please visit: .

The final consideration for greening a school (although many more exist) that I will put forward is greening the school playground and/or installing an outdoor school garden. Greening the school playground will often incorporate a school garden, so we will discuss them together. One technique to create a green playground is to eliminate the concrete and asphalt and replace the surfaces with artificial turf or a similar product. Another greening method is called a natural playground. Natural playgrounds integrate features such as trees, bushes, and raised flowerbeds with slides, swings, and benches. Natural playgrounds have resulted in a decrease in violent behavior and an increase in attention (Loomis, 2008).  A school garden can be beneficial for the instructional curriculum as well as having positive effects in improving other site features such as drainage. Finally, schools that have gardens often use the food they grow in their food service program and can even utilize the crops as a source of revenue.

The United States Department of Education also recognizes the advantages of a school or division going green. On July 20, 2016, the Center for Green Schools and the USGBC recognized 47 schools and 15 districts for their outstanding efforts to go green. In addition to the K-12 honorees, 11 colleges and universities were honored with the Postsecondary Sustainability Award. I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony, and would submit to you that those receiving the awards did not go green for the award; instead they took their actions knowing that they were making a positive impact on our environment and reaping the many benefits of going green for their school community.


Issa, M. H., Rankin, J. H., Attalla, M., & Christian, A. J. (2011). Absenteeism, performance and occupant satisfaction with the indoor environment of green toronto schools. Indoor and Built Environment20(5), 511-523.

Loomis, A. (2008). Natural Playgrounds. Sustainable Portland: Implementation Series, 49.

Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr., serves as the Research Project Director for the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC). Victor has more than 31 years of work experience in public schools in Virginia. Prior to joining the EFC, he served as Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Support for a mid-urban school district. In that role, he was responsible for finance, facilities, transportation, student services, and food services.


EPA, 2016. Numerous sources of funding are available to create and support healthy, productive school environments for students and staff. The links on this page describe how to find a variety of funding sources, including grants, tax credits, loans and others.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014.


Approximately 7 million children younger than 18 years of age in the United States have asthma.1
In a classroom of 30 students, about 3 currently have asthma.2 This rate may be higher in densely populated communities or among certain population groups. For instance, among African American children, 1 in 6 has asthma, an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2001 to 2009.3 Among Puerto Rican children, 1 in 5 has asthma, more than double the rate among Hispanic children overall.4 Additionally, there may be students who have asthma but have not been diagnosed.


Studies have shown that many students who have asthma miss school because of their disease. Asthma can lead to absenteeism for a variety
of reasons, such as symptoms, doctor visits, hospitalizations, the need to avoid environmental triggers at school, and sleep deprivation due to nighttime asthma attacks.5 Nearly half of students who have asthma miss at least one day of school each year because of their disease.6 In 2008, on average, students missed 4 days of school because of asthma.7

  1. Akinbami LJ, Moorman JE, Bailey C, Zahran HS, King M, Johnson CA,
    Liu X. Trends in asthma prevalence, health care use, and mortality in the United States, 2001–2010. NCHS Data Brief No. 94. Hyattsville, MD: CDC; 2012.
  2. CDC. Asthma and Schools [online]. Available from Accessed July 1, 2014.
  3. CDC. Vital Signs: Asthma in the U.S. May 2011. Available from Accessed July 1, 2014.
  4. National Health Interview Survey, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC. National Health Interview Survey, 2010. Table 4-1. Available from Accessed July 1, 2014.
  5. Basch CE. Asthma and the achievement gap among urban minority youth.
    J School Health 2011;81(10):606-13. Available from http://onlinelibrary.wiley. com/doi/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00634.x/full. Accessed September 9, 2014.
  6. CDC. Asthma’s Impact on the Nation. May 8, 2012. Available from Accessed July 1, 2014.
  7. CDC. Vital Signs: Asthma in the U.S. May 2011. Available from Accessed July 1, 2014.
  8. Cohen DE. Asthma and school functioning. Health Reports 2010;21(4). Available from 11363-eng.pdf. Accessed July 1, 2014.


When compared with students who do not have
a chronic condition, students who have asthma have decreased academic performance, according to standardized test scores and parental reports. More severe asthma is associated with poorer performance.8,9 Lower readiness scores were
found among kindergarteners who have asthma10; and entering school with asthma was found to be linked with lower reading scores after the first year.11 Effective management of asthma can eliminate potential challenges and obstacles to effective learning and academic success.12


Through the use of well-coordinated asthma management programs, schools can play an effective role in helping students keep their asthma under control. Learn what your school can do to provide quality care for students who have asthma; be prepared to handle asthma emergencies; create an environment with fewer asthma triggers; and promote education and partnerships that support good asthma control.

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EPA, 2009.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Indoor Air Quality  Tools for Schools (IAQ Tools for Schools) Program to help schools assess and improve indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ is becoming an increasingly important issue in our nation’s schools. Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population—nearly 56 million people—spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools. Good IAQ assists schools with their core mission—educating children. The background information and activities in this voluntary program are directed toward existing schools in the kindergarten through twelfth grade range, but colleges, universities, preschool, and day-care centers could benefit by applying the principles and activities presented.

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