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Green Cleaning: Roll Reversal

Feb. 1, 2016
How effective cleaning, or lack thereof, can affect attendance.

Recently a new study was released addressing some of the fundamental causes of absenteeism. The study, Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting A Course of Student Success, was produced by two outstanding nonprofits, Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign.

The study found that an estimated 5 to 7.5 million U.S. students are missing about a month of school each year and that these absences seriously impact their academic performance. The problem starts early, with an estimated 10 percent of kindergartners and first graders absent from school each year. 

This is a very critical time for youngsters because it is typically during these early years of schooling that they are beginning to learn to read. Missing school at this important juncture can result in these students being permanently behind their peers.

The absence rate spikes again in children entering their teen years. This is another very critical time because many teenage students, especially from low-income families, begin to question if they want to finish their schooling. If they are sick frequently—as much as a month a year—quitting school can seem almost like a practical decision. But, the study warns, poor attendance at this stage in a student’s development “is a warning sign that a student has missed an on-ramp to success and is headed off track for graduation” and very likely a wide range of difficulties during their adult lives.

It should be noted that these kids are not “skipping” school. The study reports that the reasons these students are missing school can be attributed to a number of factors; but the first one noted is health related: asthma.

Focus on Asthma

According to the study, asthma, asthma attacks, and other serious respiratory problems account for about 14 million school absences each year. The more serious and frequent the attacks, the more likely the student will be absent from school and the longer those absences will be. It is known that even effective cleaning cannot prevent some asthma “triggers.” Some schools, due to age, neglect, or poor upkeep, have mold, mildew, and other problems that can cause asthma and respiratory problems.

The report points out specifically that “harsh cleaning chemicals,” which typically means traditional cleaning solutions, can negatively impact student health and trigger asthma attacks. 

What Can Be Done

The cleaning industry has made tremendous gains in transforming school districts around the country from traditional to greener cleaning products and procedures. But this study highlights that there is still much to do. Some terrific opportunities to be considered:

Green Apple Day of Service. Last year, ISSA and the Healthy Schools Campaign cataloged the training of nearly 800 school custodians, serving more than 300,000 students. This is a great project for schools and universities to be recognized for the training that is being done. Nothing new has to be added.

Green Sports Alliance. Working with pro and collegiate sport teams, the Alliance is launching workshops on greener cleaning in sport facilities. Sport facilities such as gyms, training areas, locker rooms and other areas have unique cleaning needs in order to protect our student athletes and fans. This opportunity will be a way to learn to “clean like the pros”—pro sports that is.

Green Cleaning Awards for Schools & Universities. This annual program sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign and the Green Cleaning Network is another great program to identify ways to create healthier schools for our students, staff and other visitors. 

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