• Students enjoy playing on natural features in their playground.

  • I grew this! Students in school gardens grow their confidence, scientific knowledge and math skills. They feed their understanding of nutrition, too.

  • Students practice their leaf calls by blowing air across a blade of grass held between their thumbs.

  • Students paint storm drains to remind people that pollution and trash can flow directly into the harbor.

  • Mapping a garden combines geography, botany, spelling, math and art.

  • Turning algae into I'll go, students learn how to derive energy from algae.

  • Spat on the half shell. A baby oyster (spat) will be grown on an oyster shell in an oyster cage suspended in the Baltimore Harbor. Oysters filter sediment and pollutants from the water.

  • Gardening gives students a chance to investigate the natural world with awe and intense interest.

  • Scott Hartman takes students outside to learn about gardening, nutrition, biology, cooking and math. When he asked one class of students why the chickens were kept in a fenced in enclosure, a student anwered, "Because it did something really bad?"

When School Budgets Don’t Add Up To Success

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A recent article in the Baltimore Sun, Small schools, high salaries behind district’s budget gap, pointed to higher costs of small schools and relatively higher costs of salaries for teachers in the district as the cause of the budget cuts and layoffs at Baltimore City Public Schools. This analysis demonstrates three major errors in how we develop school budgets.

First, we only calculate the cost side of the budget sheet.                                                                                                                                                                      In pointing out the slightly higher costs of small schools, the benefits of the close-knit school, high attendance rates and few suspensions are mentioned, but they are not assigned a value on the other side of the ledger.   If we don’t value high attendance and good school culture, what is it that we do value?  This cost-only accounting pervades our educational decisions, shuttering schools and programs that have real value for students and their success.

Second, comparing urban school district to suburban districts ignores the stark differences in their challenges.  This false comparison is invoked to justify giving urban districts fewer dollars than they need to help their students to succeed.  Can we sit every child in Maryland in a desk in a classroom for about the same price?  Sure.  But if we want our children in impoverished, highly segregated and unequal schools to achieve at levels we expect at suburban schools, we need different strategies and different budgets.

Third, we produce budgets that are unattached to goals.  A budget should be more than an apportionment of funds.  It should be an allocation of funds to achieve meaningful social goals. If we want to escape our legacy of failures in urban education, we have to invest in helping students escape the legacy of poverty and segregation.  We need to throw out the flawed accounting that perpetuates failure and invest in the education our children deserve. The waste in urban education is not small schools or teacher salaries. It’s that too many of our children are not prepared to reach their full potentials.

Students and teachers are working heroically to beat the odds against our streets. Is it too much to ask that we invest in them with the same eagerness that we invest in hotels, stadiums and development projects? This is the investment that will signal the comeback for Baltimore.

-shan

Science out of the Silos

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There is a new paradigm for scientific research that’s developing and it may be the biggest breakthrough science has ever made: community research grants.

These grants offer communities and organizations a collaborative role in researching health and social problems, training in scientific investigations, and a shared communication of the results and implications of these studies. For communities, which have never been offered a role in research studies other than unpaid lab rats, this is a big deal.

These partnerships can help communities develop research and design interventions to improve the lives of their members and clients. For scientists, these partnerships offer keen insights into the social, economic and cultural factors which affect these issues and ongoing access to these programs for follow up research opportunities which can test the effect of interventions as they are implemented over time.

My favorite opportunity for these grants is at K-12 schools where students and college researchers could collaborate on issues which affect the health and learning of students, their families and communities. This collaboration would help enrich the science curriculum, create mentorships and bridges to colleges, and help turn the schools into a powerful agent of change for health in their communities.

I love science and scientists, but I will not miss the high holy research design where lab coats and equipment appeared and disappeared without a trace save for a mention in a scientific journal or conference. The job of science is to create better understanding and better outcomes. When it descends from the tower of science, it is a valuable tool of positive social change.
I’m excited to see what we will learn, when we are learning together.

Youth Summit

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Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD

Associate Dean, Public Health Practice & Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, talks with students about health disparities in Baltimore City during a Youth Summit at the Cylburn Arboretum. A recent report on health indicators in Baltimore found that there remains a 20 year disparity in life expectancy between neighborhoods in Baltimore City.

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New Baltimore City health report.
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Students demonstrate how to isolate DNA from strawberries during the Youth Summit in Baltimore.
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Students examine the strands of DNA, separated from strawberries during a demonstration at the Youth Summit in Baltimore.
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Planting flowers
Students at the Youth Summit in Baltimore plant flower seeds in a a small planter that they were given to take home.
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A walk in the woods
Participants at the Youth Summit in Baltimore take a stroll through the woods at the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore.
You

Is Our Biggest Error– Our Air?

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If a school or business wants to boost productivity and performance, the answer may be hiding, invisibly, right under their noses.  And in their lungs. 

That’s right, air.  According to The COGfx Study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Syracuse University Center of Excellence, and SUNY Upstate Medical School, increasing the supply of clean air may boost cognitive functions—how we learn and make decisions– by over 100 percent.  

The largest improvements were found in three domains:

Crisis Response: 131%    Strategy: 288%    and Information Usage: 299%.  

(Note:Any thoughts on where we could use some brain boosting ventilation?  White House?  Pentagon?  Tweet Room?) 

The study compared the levels of Co2, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and ventilation in   convention building conditions, green buildings, and green with enhanced ventilation.

  • Conventional: typical (~500 ppm) volatile organic compound (VOC) levels and 20 cfm outdoor air per person
  • Green: VOC levels reduced to approximately 50 ?g/m3 and 20 cfm outdoor air per person
  • Green with enhanced ventilation: VOC levels reduced to approximately 50 ?g/m3 and 40 cfm outdoor air per person

The study showed a 61 % increase in cognitive function in green buildings compared to conventional buildings, and a 101% increase in cognitive function in Green buildings with enhanced ventilation.

Granted, this is a small study in a controlled office environment.  But these large effects should start us thinking about our opportunities to improve the performance of those who learn, work and live in our buildings.   

What would it be worth to flip a switch and significantly improve the cognitive performance of the students at your school or the employees at your business?  

 

In a March 2017 presentation at the NFTM conference in Baltimore, Christopher Walinski of Munich Reinsurance, America, discussed how his team is applying enhanced ventilation to an office area on their campus in New Jersey.  The team has reduced energy use at their campus by 50% since 2007, and they are using occupancy sensors to manage the additional ventilation efficiently.  The team is using plants in area planters and green cleaning to help lower VOC levels. 

This work is not a study and they are not collecting data on occupant performance, but occupant comments have been positive.  They are tracking the lowering of the Co2 levels (average of 514 in the test space vs 655 in similar office areas).     The team expects to expand this enhanced ventilation to more areas on their campus in the future.  They may be creating a template for other building managers to follow as they look to improve the productivity and health of their occupants. 

 

In a second study, Cogfx2, the researchers examined ten office buildings in five cities and found that high performing, green certified buildings outperformed high performing, uncertified buildings.

  • 4% higher cognitive test scores in high-performing, green certified buildings.
  • 4% higher Sleep Quality scores in high-performing, green certified buildings.
  • 30% fewer symptoms in high-performing, green certified buildings.
  • Thermal comfort and sleep quality associated with higher cognitive scores

 

       Read the report: http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/study-2/view-the-report

  

 As we looked for the cause of bad decisions and poor performance, our first question has been 

“What were you smoking?!”

With what we are learning about cognitive function and ventilation, our second question should be

“What were you breathing?”

 

 

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Science out of the Silos

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There is a new paradigm for scientific research that’s developing and it may be the biggest breakthrough science has ever made: community research grants. These grants offer communities and organizations a collaborative role... READ MORE