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Improving School Environment and Performance

July 7, 2008
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Georgia Tech researchers inspect the exterior of a school as part of a project to improve health and comfort levels for students.

Research underway at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) suggests that indoor environment improvements to schools can raise student scores on standardized tests. Green school programs, already in operation in several states, are touted mainly for saving energy, said Charlene Bayer, a GTRI principal research scientist.

Yet Bayer’s research indicates that bettering a school’s indoor environment also increases health and comfort, which in turn promotes increased attendance, student attentiveness, and teaching effectiveness.

“There is a direct correlation between decreased absenteeism and increased test scores,” said Bayer, a specialist in indoor air health issues. “Everyone thinks that being green means primarily energy saving, but in fact green schools can have a major productivity impact.”

Test scores in environmentally improved schools can increase as much as 3 to 5 percent, according to the National Review for Green Schools: Costs, Benefits, and Implications for Massachusetts.

GTRI’s research indicates that asthma is a major health issue affecting school attendance. At least 10 percent of Georgia children are asthmatic, with some urban areas topping 25 percent. The problem can be triggered by environmental factors, such as:

• Mold, which is a particular problem in Georgia and the Southeast because of high humidity. Damp outside air can seep into buildings, creating unseen mold inside walls;

• Building materials, which can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), aggravating asthma and other respiratory conditions;

• Diesel school bus emissions, which can cause significant indoor pollution when the vehicles are allowed to idle near school buildings.

GTRI recommends ways to reduce these problems, often at little cost. Among the recommendations are careful adjustment of a school’s HVAC system to increase outside air exchange, reducing mold and other pollutants.

In other cases, new HVAC controls, including building automation systems, can improve airflow and reduce pollutants. School renovation can eliminate mold hidden in walls, as well as construction materials that give off VOCs.

And the simple expedient of turning off school bus engines until students leave can improve school air quality. Other measures to aid existing schools include increasing non-glaring daylight in classrooms and improving cleaning practices to minimize mold, bacteria, and dust.

GTRI recently sent every Georgia school system a publication titled Green Schools for High Performance, said Ken Johnson, a GTRI senior research scientist who is working with Bayer on school-health issues. The publication details 19 health- and energy-related steps that schools can take at little or no cost.

For more information, visit www.gtri.gatech.edu.

Publication date: 07/07/2008

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