Linked to Learning

A little more than a month ago, an eclectic group of professionals was invited to participate in a two-day summit to identify gaps in research on education facilities and the impact of the built environment on learning, performance, and occupant health and safety.

The panel, organized by the National Center for Energy Management and Building Technologies (NCEMBT), with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was charged with a number of items, including exploring the physical and environmental state of schools; analyzing the impact of school disrepair on learning; and determining research/studies and additional funding that may be required.

While numerous “soft” studies have been conducted examining the link between various aspects of the built environment and learning and health, the panel determined that very little research provided true quantitative/scientific results that could serve as a model for education institutions. And with the intense national focus on academic performance and ensuring every child has the opportunity to reach his or her potential, there isn't a more appropriate time to refocus efforts on where learning takes place — the school facility.

In response, NCEMBT has initiated a pilot program called “Health, Energy and Productivity in Schools” (HEPS). It is designed to follow third-grade students longitudinally through their third- and fourth-grade academic years. The program's objective is to quantify the effects of simultaneous control of indoor exposures (such as thermal, IAQ, lighting and acoustics) on specific measures of human response, student and teacher performance, and productivity.

The pilot study is being conducted in six matched elementary schools in Maryland. Upon completion later this year, NCEMBT plans to develop and validate a protocol that can be used in a comprehensive study of schools nationwide.

Hopefully, the result of such a program will provide the scientific data that definitively links the built environment to student and staff performance and health. Then, administrators will be armed with the resources needed to convince those who view facilities as just an “expense” of their true value — as an “investment” in education where a community of learners can flourish.

SCORECARD

20

Percentage of the nation's population — 53 million school-age children and 6 million adults — that enter school buildings to teach and to learn.

Source: Coalition for Healthier Schools

1,100

Number of public schools in a recent five-state survey built within a half-mile of a toxic-waste site.

Source: Coalition for Healthier Schools

57,500

Approximate number of U.S. school buildings, one-half of the nation's K-12 building stock, that have problems linked to indoor air quality.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

5.2

Number of school-age children, in millions, afflicted with asthma.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

14

Number of school days, in millions, lost annually as a result of asthma.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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