Healthy Student Treasure Hunt

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Reading outside can be healthy and enjoyable, providing fresh air and vitamin D from the sunlight.
Studying and exercising in safe areas outdoors can be healthy and enjoyable, providing fresh air, sunshine and vitamin D.

When 161 Baltimore City Schools closed in response to COVID-19, about 70,000 schools opened in the homes of our students. The district has scrambled to provide meal services, computers and internet access to students. But what have we done to keep our students engaged and healthy?

Here are four areas where we could help students protect and improve their health and learning over the next four months.

1)Create safe and effective home learning environments. Baltimore has a legacy of lead poisoning and childhood asthma rates that are twice the state average. Lead poisoning can lead to permanent learning disabilities. Asthma is the leading health cause of school absences.  Now that school hours are spent at home, students who live in homes with existing health hazards have extended exposure to harm.  What is we used home health as a science project? Students can use an online survey to assess whether their homes have health hazards. The students who find mold, water leaks, pests could request a video conference tour where they could show home health experts the conditions and receive advice on what their family can fix or whether they should have help from professionals at the Green and Healthy Home Initiative. Another way to help students is to challenge them to create good places to study, avoid distractions and take breaks to keep themselves happy and alert.

2)Chart exercise, nutrition, sleep, friendships and fun. This is a great way to teach students to collect and chart data and it can help students build healthy behaviors. For students that seem to need help, reach out to education students and retired teachers for mentors that can help students thrive.

3)Educate students on COVID-19 health strategies and encourage them to create videos on the best ways to stay safe at home and school. Students are more likely to listen to their cool peers on what they should do, so please don’t wait until students return to school to get students on board on how to be safe. They really need to know this now for their safety and the safety of their families.

3)Involve students in planning for the return to schools. Students are able to see problems that teachers and administrators miss, and they are great at finding solutions. If you keep students out of the loop, you will have problems that you could have avoided.

4)Engage students in monitor health conditions at the school when they return. Students perceive problems quickly and are eager to help solve them. Making this a science project for one class or even a small team of science students would enable students to monitor crowding, ventilation, cleaning and health behaviors at the school and innovate to improve the safety of students.

COVID-19 is terrible, but it is also a perfect authentic learning project that touches every subject and every student. Let’s not miss this opportunity to help our students learn and thrive.

The “No” Hypothesis

 “I don’t think it will work”.  was neatly printed across the answer box, under the word, hypothesis. I looked up from her worksheet, bent my eyebrows into a question mark and punctuated it with a “huh?” The student shrugged a shoulder, but her face was sure and solid. “ I don’t think it will work.” “Nothing is going to happen.”  Her tone wasn’t angry, or even disappointed.  Just calling it the way she saw it.  Seemed like she’d seen a lot of “nothing is going to happen,” and this just seemed like the next one in line. We’ve been working in her class to help students study and improve the conditions in their school. We’ve talked about things students wanted to change at their school and how we can study them, and innovate to create improvements.  One group of students wants to make school lunches better.  Another group wants to find a way to control the temperatures in their classrooms.  A third group wants to reduce asthma triggers and asthma attacks. This student had noticed that the bathrooms were a mess.  Some of the sinks didn’t work. The toilets were often plugged up, and toilet paper could be missing.  Sometimes there wasn’t even a bathroom monitor around to open the door. Her project was to check the bathrooms and report on their condition to the janitor and the bathroom monitor.  But “nobody’s gonna do anything.”, she said.  Matter of fact. Science is supposed to be calculating and methodical. Just the facts, based on what we know.   Based on a long line of “nobody’s gonna do anything,” her hypothesis that “It won’t work” is a likely outcome. But the soul of science and innovation is hope—that we can find ways to make things better.                         Poor health and learning conditions in our schools steal from our children. When students swelter through heat waves and shiver in the winter; when poor ventilation and asthma triggers sap the energy and health of students, there are no sirens that alert us to this theft.  No data is collected to show us the loss of potential caused by these conditions.  In the city with the highest asthma rates in the state, we don’t even track absences due to asthma at our schools. When these poor conditions become the expected norm, it breaks the hope which is fundamental to science and education.   If nothing’s going to happen, why try? I don’t know which hypothesis is more likely to prove true.  But whether students can create their own improvements and hope in Baltimore schools—that’s a very important experiment.  Science teachers, consider trying it with your students.
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Oh, They Breathe? Connecting Schools to Student Needs.

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You get what you measure.  When schools measure their success by the answers on test results, the importance of other factors, like physical,  social, and emotional health can be left out of the equation.

schools need to meet the needs of their students

Study after study will point out the importance of exercise in improving the health and learning of students, but physical education and recess are reduced to add more time and resources to tested subjects.   

Study after study will detail the importance of school conditions on the health and learning of students, but districts often fail to make needed repairs and renovations which could improve those conditions.  This is particularly true in poor school districts like Baltimore City Public Schools, which have suffered frequent budget cuts. 

Heating and Cooling

It is inadequate heating and air conditioning in Baltimore City Public Schools that has grabbed headlines.  Last winter when boilers failed, several schools closed for emergency repairs.  This year, many schools were closed half days for a week due to inadequate air conditioning.   It is stunning when our schools cannot provide moderate temperatures for our children which we would expect in any store, government or office building or prison.  The loss of classroom time and the disruption of academic and family schedules is tragic.  But temperature is only one of the factors that affects student performance.

Ventilation

Ventilation rates in many Baltimore City Public Schools are inadequate.  High Co2 levels can reduce student performance; inadequate air exchanges leave students breathing higher levels of indoor pollutants, increasing the likelihood of illness and asthma attacks.   In freezing winter days, you can see whole lines of windows open at some schools as teachers are trying to lower the temperatures in their overheated classrooms.  I used to squirm at the thought of the energy this wasted.  I still squirm, but I’m at least comforted that students are getting ample fresh air.

Asthma triggers

Dust, pests, mold and chemicals are frequent triggers of asthma attacks.  Schools with poor maintenance are more likely to have more asthma triggers.   Leaky roofs and plumbing can produce mold hazards, inadequate cleaning and pest control can result in airborne dust and pest allergens.    Children in Baltimore are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than children in Maryland as a whole, so asthma triggers in Baltimore City Public Schools may be sending a disproportionately high percentage of Baltimore children home or to a hospital with an asthma attack.  But we don’t know, because the school district does not track absences due to asthma. 

Nutrition

Baltimore City Public Schools offers free breakfast and lunch to all students, but not all students are eating these meals.  Many students arrive after breakfast service has ended.  Students often suggest that schools should offering fresher, more appealing food items.

Lighting

Classroom lighting is often cited as having a strong correlation to student learning and performance.  Most studies find that proper lighting, particularly from natural light sources (windows) is strongly correlated to student learning.  Some classrooms don’t have sufficient window light, but in many others, teachers are choosing to block out natural lighting for a variety of reasons: to project lessons on a screen, to control student behavior, to control classroom temperatures, or the blinds are inoperable. 

Building awareness of the effect of lighting in classrooms and developing appropriate choices for teachers could improve student health and learning.

Acoustics

Classroom acoustics determines whether students can hear the instruction, collaborate with each other, and focus on their work.  Loud fans, noise from other classrooms, loud announcement systems and bells can detract from the learning environment. 

A STEM Learning Project which connects schools to the needs of their students.

When students and teachers study how they can improve the health and learning conditions at their school, they are emerged in a hands on scientific investigation into improving their own environment and performance.   This can help connect the school to the physical, emotional, social and academic needs of students.

Here are some projects students could do at their schools. 

What is the optimal amount and source of light in classrooms?

  1. Test Light levels in 4 classrooms
  2. Test students
  3. Alter light levels (open blinds in 2 classrooms /turn off lights in 2 classrooms)
  4. Test students
  5. Survey students/teachers on their preferences for lighting

What is the existing range for temperature and humidity in our classrooms?  What is the optimal range?

  1. Select rooms to test
  2. Collect temp, humidity data
  3. Test students
  4. Control temp/(or wait until cold/hot temperatures)
  5. Test students
  6. Compare results.
  7. Survey students on the best temperature ranges.

What is the existing water quality at our school?:

  Test bacteria in water dispensers

  Test lead in water supply

  Test from inside school

  Test sidewalk near bus

Can students improve nutrition at the school?

 How old is the food?

 How much food waste?

 Are there other sources for food or ways to improve freshness and nutritional offerings?

 How many students refuse or choose not to eat?

 Survey and/or observe which students eat, which don’t.

 What effect do the vending machines have on student nutrition?  

How can we increase the number of students who eat breakfast?

Survey students

Test group of students in 1 or 2 classes.

Note: mice and cockroaches love leftovers.  If students eat in classrooms, they need to clean up.

How do asthma triggers affect student health and learning at our school?

Who has asthma?

How many asthma absences?

Survey

What are the asthma triggers in school?

Chemicals, cleaning agents, pests, dust, air quality.

How to quantify pests?

Survey, Pest Log, glue traps,

 

How do locked, dirty bathrooms affect students?

Are bathrooms available to students when needed?

Are bathrooms supplied and clean?

Survey students and teachers

Interview bathroom monitors, staff.

Can plants and air filters improve air quality in our school?

Measure and monitor air quality in classrooms

Introduce plants which clean air into one classroom

Introduce mechanical air filters into another clasroom

Remeasure the air quality in the classrooms

Compare the air quality in the test and control rooms.

Survey students and teachers on their opinions on air quality.in their classrooms.

Reporting Findings and Recommendations

The key to these projects are in the final steps: how do students innovate to try to solve these issues, how they report on their findings to their class, and to school and government officials. 

Learning to Live In Baltimore

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools | 0

 

How schools can improve the health of students and their communities

The 2017 Neighborhood Health Report by the Baltimore City Health Department is hard to read.                               It spells out the stark disparities and desperation in our city with a clarity that is hard to confront.                           We don’t want the details about homicides, increasing overdoses, and low life expectancy to be about our city–but they are.   

It is no secret that death comes easy in Baltimore.  Average life expectancy here is 73.6 years, about five years less than the national average of 78.8 and six years less than the Maryland state average of 79.5.  This is disturbing, but when we compare life expectancy of our neighborhoods, the disparities are glaring.   

The Clifton-Berea (94.9% African American, median income $25,738) has a life expectancy of 66.9 years while Cross-Country/Cheswolde (72.9% White, median income $54,868) has a life expectancy of 87.1 years.   

This is a 20-year difference between life expectancy in a predominantly white, middle income neighborhood and a black, lower income neighborhood. We know that our neighborhoods have long been divided along    racial and economic lines, but this gap isn’t just the shadow of our segregated history, it’s the misery of life in poor, segregated neighborhoods today.

Chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity are the leading causes of death in Baltimore and the nation.  In 2014, approximately one third of Baltimore City residents were obese.  Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Drugs and alcohol overdose deaths increased 56.6% from 2015 to 2016 when 694 people died.   Homicides, most related to drugs, add to this total of drug related deaths. There were 318 Homicides in 2016.   On the 300th day of 2017, 291 homicides have been recorded, a rate of nearly one a day. 

How long will we allow this misery to exist?                                                                                                          What will we do now to change these brutal statistics in the years ahead?

If our schools are truly preparing children for life, we need to ensure that they won’t suffer the same chronic diseases, addictions, and violence a few years into the future. 

Growing the mind, body and spirit of our children, their families, and their community should be the primary goal of our schools.   This is a key shift in how we now view the mission and role of schools.  

 

Here is a quick checklist.  How is your school doing?

  • Is every child getting good nutrition and learning to create healthy meals?
  • Is every child getting an hour of exercise every day?
  • Is every child getting regular medical, dental, and vision checkups?
  • Is every child offered mental health services?
  • Is every child offered meditation or yoga training to relieve stress?
  • Is every child connected to trusted adult mentors?
  • Is every child offered time to learn and play in nature?
  • Is every child learning conflict resolution and peer conflict mediation?            
  • Is every child taking health information home to their families on health access, addiction treatment programs, jobs and social services?
  • Is your school free from asthma triggers like mice, cockroaches, dust, bus idling, air fresheners and toxic cleaning materials?
  • Are classroom temperatures between 65 and 78 degrees?
  • Do students have free access to water and bathrooms?

                                      

Some of this is happening now. 

Some schools have yoga and meditation centers; some are improving their nutrition and outdoor education programs; some are instituting peer conflict mediation programs; some have health suites and vision care for students.  Some schools are involved with THREAD, which provides mentors for at risk students.

 

Some is not enough. 

Every school needs to meet the human needs of every child. This isn’t easy, and schools are already overwhelmed. Expanding out of school programs, integrating community programs, and bringing in more volunteers from the community can help create this change.

If we realign education to the needs of our students, they will do better in school–and in life. They will be ready to reclaim Baltimore and the years of life which are rightfully theirs.                                                  -shan

 

 

Want to learn more about health in Baltimore City? 

Here is a link to the 2017 health report on Baltimore City as a whole. 

https://health.baltimorecity.gov/sites/default/files/NHP%202017%20-%2000%20Baltimore%20City%20(overall)%20(rev%206-22-17).pdf

 

Here is the link to download the individual neighborhood profiles:

https://health.baltimorecity.gov/neighborhoods/neighborhood-health-profile-reports

 

Here are links to a variety of health maps.

 

2013 life expectancy:

http://baltimore.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=7c85a6d5b958496d863e738234373934

Teen birth rate

http://baltimore.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=7c85a6d5b958496d863e738234373934

Violent crime 2013

http://baltimore.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=7c85a6d5b958496d863e738234373934

Avertable deaths 2011

http://health.baltimorecity.gov/sites/default/files/Map_Healthy%20Baltimore%20-%20Avertable%20Deaths.pdf

2015 homicide epidemic

http://baltimore.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=995f2e81bd664b478a9039741c62ea3a

Students Test Their Schools

Students Test their Schools

Students at Patterson High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute are about to get new science and environmental health laboratories: their schools.

Johns Hopkins and Cool Green Schools are partnering on a community research grant to provide three classes of high school students with mentors, testing equipment, and funding so they can study and improve the health and learning conditions in their school environments. 

Students will work with Keith Madigan, a building engineer, to collect data on environmental conditions which affect their health and learning. They will monitor several conditions including: temperature, humidity, acoustics, lighting, asthma triggers, VOC’s, 2.5ppm and Co2.

Two public health students from Johns Hopkins, Arshdeep Kaur and Madison Dutson, will introduce students to environmental health research, demonstrate an environmental health study, and mentor students.

The high school students will propose and conduct their own research projects.  The grant provides students with testing equipment, $4,000 dollars to study and improve their school environments, and $1,000 dollars to communicate their findings.

This student research project will offer innovative STEM learning opportunities for students, but school facility staff, researchers and educators may learn important lessons from this project as well.  

Stay tuned, we will post updates on this project as it evolves.

Shan

Science out of the Silos

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, STEM | 0

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 The New Scientific Breakthroughs:

            How and Who

 

When we list our most important scientific breakthroughs, we usually note the discoveries of new evidence: ancient bones, DNA, black holes and medicines. 

But could our biggest recent breakthrough be not what have found, but how we collaborate in our research?

There is a new paradigm for scientific research that could change how we study, what we study, and whether our research is useful in solving the problems it identified. 

Community research 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.  These collaborations could help enrich the science curriculum, develop mentoring partnerships that create bridges to colleges, and help schools become a locus for building healthy 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.