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"Green" Schools Improve Student Performance and Health

Environmentally-friendly schools are not just good for the planet, they're good for the students! The so-called green schools provide a better learning environment.

The Green Schools Initiative encourages communities to design or renovate schools with environmental principles in mind, including energy efficiency, non-toxic cleaning supplies and environmental education. Four years ago, Rochester School District in New York signed up with the nationwide project, and District official Maurice Bell says since then, the number of its schools joining the program has grown dramatically. "When I began there were two schools involved," he says. "Today there are 17 schools involved in the Green School Program."

None of the schools in Rochester was designed or constructed as a green school, but many have adopted an environment-friendly approach. One of them is Kodak Park School Number 41. First-grade teacher Megan Comstock supervises the Green School Club, where students are directly involved in saving the environment.

"We meet two times a month," she says. "We do different activities. We made posters about what to recycle and what not to recycle. We have an energy patrol that goes around at the end of the day, which reminds teachers to turn off their lights when they leave classrooms, not leaving everything plugged in, turning off your computer monitors."

Energy expert Neil Maldies works with Trane, a heating and air conditioning company that provides green upgrades for existing buildings. Maldies says simple modifications such as buying energy saving appliances or turning off unused machines and lights can make a big difference. It's encouraging, he says, that more schools seem interested in adopting the green approach.

"There are 40 schools across the nation that are actually green certified through the U.S. GBC (Green Building Council)," he says. "And there are about 300 schools that are in the process of getting certified."

Among the characteristics of green schools are a better lighting system and better indoor air circulation than other buildings. That makes green schools a better learning environment, according to Trane's Maureen Lally.

"There are many research studies that definitely show that daylight, better light, improved test scores," she says. "Studies show that indoor air quality, like having a good temperature or constant temperature that's neither too high nor too cold, affects teachers' and students' ability to concentrate and perform better on tests."

Rochester School District's Green Initiative Coordinator, Maurice Bell, says being involved in greening their own school helps students' performance in many other ways.

"Students have to do the observation," he says. "They do the measurement of light in hallways and various rooms throughout the building, which gets them into the scientific method. They have to do the calculations, which causes them to use their math skills. They also present to the faculty and the Board of Education at an end-of-the-year celebration of what they have done. So they also enhance their reading, writing and speaking skills."

According to Andrew Topinka, of New Jersey's Green Building Council, although technology makes it easier to green America's schools, involvement by the younger generation is the most important resource in this process.

"Students are interested in where they live. They are interested in how they live," he says. "They are interested in the planet they are on. I had a 16-year-old junior in high school, a Girl Scout, who is putting together a global environmental program in her community. This is what kids are doing today. They are putting on their own programs. They are aware of this."

Topinka says many students are even adopting the green approach as a lifestyle after school hours. They are leading by example: encouraging their friends and parents to change old behaviors and be green advocates everywhere they go.