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.
Every year our schools test students. And every year these tests show that students in Baltimore City Public Schools perform far below state averages on all subjects. If we want better results, we need to invert the equation.
Students should test their schools.
This changes everything.
As students study their school, they become scientists, problem solvers and innovators.
Using scientific tools and protocols, students identify, quantify and analyze factors which affect their health and learning.
Then, they communicate, innovate, and engineer to create improvements in their school and their lives.
Since improvements in the school environment and operations benefit everyone in the building, this work creates a natural collaboration between students, teachers, staff and administrators as they seek solutions together.
• Can students, teachers and custodians find ways to reduce asthma triggers like dust, chemicals and pests?
• How can high schools screen students for vision problems?
• Can we eliminate bus idling at our schools?
• How can we improve student health?
How students test their school
Students use scientific tools and three different protocols to identify, quantify and analyze the health and learning at their school.
Tools for Schools (by EPA) is a checklist to identify asthma triggers at the school including chemicals, dust, pests, mold and bus idling. Early detection and remediation of asthma triggers can create a healthier school environment, lower absenteeism, and reduce maintenance and repair costs at schools. Students could identify whether green cleaning and integrated pest management protocols are being followed at their school and make or recommend improvements.
Operations Report Card (by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools) is a protocol for measuring the environmental factors that are correlated with learning: temperature, humidity, acoustics, lighting, and ventilation. Collecting and analyzing these factors can identify problems which affect student performance and ways to create improvements in these conditions.
Energy Star Portfolio Manager by EPA enables students to benchmark and compare the energy use of their school to similar schools in the area and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school building. Students will identify ways that the school could reduce energy use in a cost-effective manner.
Surveys developed by students will also help identify opportunities to help students succeed. The problems which students list on their anonymous surveys may not have been identified or addressed by administrators. Here are examples of issues we discovered during a project last year.
• Inadequate bus service caused some students to be late for school and others unable to attend after school programs.
• Some students wouldn’t drink water during the day because bathrooms were locked and hard to access.
• Cockroaches and mice were found throughout the building.
• Most classrooms were overheated during warm weather.
• HVAC systems were inadequately maintained.
• In some cases, teachers had refused to provide students access to water.
• Several students had severe vision problems which had not been screened or detected.
Discovering and remedying issues proactively enables schools to improve student performance and satisfaction prior to school climate surveys.
Experiment You engages engineers, building and health professionals with students as teachers and mentors. Working with professionals to solve problems creates a bridge between their learning and potential STEM training and careers.
Experiment You is designed to train teachers in a co-teaching model during in school instruction or after school programs. Teachers learn the skills and protocols for the program without having to attend professional development or certification courses.
Green School Certification and Sustainability Experiment You can document the environmental work which teachers and students do toward gaining Maryland Green School certification. We can help schools apply for sustainability grants which would fund Experiment You programing and services to the school.
In Experiment Us, students would compare the conditions at their school to public and private schools in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. Students would determine whether school conditions are correlated to the racial and economic makeup of the student body at these schools. Students would examine current and proposed funding and policies at the state, local and national levels and make recommendations.
In Building US, students use the knowledge they gained in the Experiment You project to participate in the 21st Century School Building Project and the neighborhood design process. This learning could be integrated into engineering, technology, art, design and work readiness classes.
As an after school project, it would enable students, teachers, community members and building experts to work on design issues before and throughout the public planning process. This could deepen learning, strengthen school partnerships and better inform process of the needs of the clients and the community.
Upstream, Downstream engages students in learning about the environmental issues in their region and neighborhoods. Students would study the watershed for the Baltimore region and the watershed from their school. Students would study the regional air shed, their local air quality, and how proposed policies on air quality could affect their health.
Forgive the pounding of hammers and the whine of saws at 125 North Hilton Street. They are uncovering a lost jewel of a school. The former Gwynns Falls Park Junior High School was poorly maintained and was closed in 1985. When it was built in 1926, it was the most expensive Baltimore city public school with large windows, two hour fire walls, beautiful floors and an indoor courtyard. This renovation will feature breakout rooms, white boards, technology studios, community and career centers, a green roof, hanging plants, gardens and aquaponics. The eight acre site offers space for play, greenhouses and reaches the Gwynns Falls stream.
The price? At $23 million dollars for 145,000 square feet, its cost ($158.62) per square foot is almost half the average estimated cost for the 21st Century Building project in Baltimore ($309).
By moving the school closer to its students and bus routes, the school helps its students get to school easier.
Perhaps most importantly, the school intends to involve its students in the design of the school, giving them a chance to learn about and help create their own school.
Baltimore City Public Schools….are you listening and learning?
What would happen if students examined their school, homes and habits in the same way that doctors examined a patient?
Could they start to identify and change things in their school and home environments that hinder their health and learning?
Could they identify and change their own choices to improve their health and learning?
Could examining their school with health, building and energy professionals help them see potential career paths?
We got a glimpse of how this could work last month when sixty students from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute examined the health and learning conditions in their school and its energy use over four class sessions. Students also learned about the 21st century school building project and architecture in another class session.
Benchmarking schools for health and learning conditions and calculating ROI for energy projects.
Students learned how to use tools and collect data to benchmark classrooms for lighting, natural light, temperature, humidity and Co2 levels from Keith Madigan, of Madigan and Associates. Madigan helped students understand how to benchmark their school using Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools and Energy Star Portfolio Manager.
How to Understand and Reduce the Health Effects of Asthma and Lead.
Rebecca Rehr from the Maryland Environmental Health Network talked with students about asthma and asthma triggers. Students learned about programs that provide renovations and trainings to reduce asthma triggers at homes and how green cleaning can reduce asthma attacks. Rehr, a graduate of Poly, talked about how a health presentation at Poly during her junior year sparked her interest in health professions. She told students that when she attended Poly, the water fountains were turned off because of concern about lead in the water, but students weren’t involved in learning around this issue.
After presenting the asthma statistics from the classes, a student noted that he was absent from school the week when the students filled out the forms—due to asthma. It was a good lesson about our need to collect data carefully and fully. The survey results are here Poly charts and data asthma and at the end of this article.
*Survey results from the classes are included at the end of this report. School-wide asthma statistics hadn’t been supplied to Baltimore City Health Department by the health official at the school. Baltimore City Public Schools failed to submit plans for green cleaning as required by Maryland state law.
Learning to Improve the Health and Learning Conditions at Your School (and Home) Environments
Creating Community Support for Schools, Creating Schools that Support Communities.
Understanding Architecture Inside and Out: The Systems and Heart of our Built Environments.
Findings and items of interest:
• When we examined the energy and water use data for the Poly/Western campus (the schools share utilities and physical plant) we discovered that water use for Poly/Western in FY 2014 was $517,000 dollars–far higher than other high schools. The next highest water bill was $85,000 dollars. A look at historic data indicated that Poly/Western has had very high water use for several years. Energy and facilities staff has not yet indicated whether this water use has been reduced or whether there is an explanation on why it would be so high in comparison to other schools. Graphs showing the water use comparisons are found
here (Poly Water Use Charts) and at the end of this report.
• We found that the lecture room where we held most of the classes had no air flow through the ventilation/heating vents. When Co2 levels were tested in a nearby classroom, they were high despite the fact that the class had only been filled for a short time.
• Teachers and students didn’t seem to understand how to eliminate asthma triggers or that air vents and air handlers shouldn’t be blocked with classroom materials.
• The energy manager for the district insisted that boilers at the schools could not be switched from oil to gas. A staff member at the school insists that BGE certified that the boilers were dual fuel and able to use natural gas, a far cheaper fuel source at this time.
• There are a number of holes and penetrations in the building envelope ranging from ill fit window air conditioning units to unfitted ducting to doors that fail to close fully.
• Evidence of mold and water leaks in hallways and classrooms and peeling paint on the exterior.
• City Schools have not adopted green cleaning policies, procedures and purchasing despite Maryland state law.
• City Schools continues to have divided systems of reporting for information on asthma and lacks comprehensive reporting of asthma related absences.
• The square footage of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Western High School are listed differently from document to document.
Opportunities for learning activities at Poly/Western.
• Calculate the ROI of fuel change from oil to gas.
• Calculate the ROI of lighting change to LED
• Continued monitoring of temperature/humidity/air flow.
• Determine why lecture room has no air flow.
• Investigate why water use at Poly/Western is high.
• Help improve the collection and dissemination of asthma information.
• Offer eye chart exam for students to determine if they need correction to improve their ability to see and learn.
• Investigate the of costs and opportunities to provide internet/computer access to students at their homes.
• Monitor/identify and reduce pests at school with integrated pest management techniques.
• Enter energy use data into Energy Star Portfolio Manager.
• Calculate square footage for Poly and Poly/Western.
• Test for CO and mold.
• Test for lead in paint and in water supply.
• Monitor how chemicals and hazardous materials are used/stored at the school.
Students have an opportunity to use their learning to improve their health, learning and professional preparation.
Their work can provide schools with the knowledge and opportunities to lower their energy and maintenance costs while improving school attendance rates.
This is perfect STEM learning that combines health, learning, architecture, chemistry, biology, economics and social science in a hands on experiment to
create better outcomes for our students and our schools.
This work can help students meet the Core Curriculum and Next Generation Science Standards as they perform tests and create innovative engineering solutions in their immediate environment. School benchmarking can provide school facilities staff with ongoing information on the operations and maintenance of schools so they can better understand and respond to these issues before they become costly.
This learning project offers us a way to refocus and reconnect our schools to the health, learning and success of our students.
Today is the best day to start.
It was a joy to learn with the bright students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute last week. The students worked hard and offered the guest speakers great questions and great respect.
I’d like to challenge the students (and anyone who wishes) to understand and present the City Schools energy data accurately and informatively. Access to open and accurate information can help us understand and solve problems.
I’ve put together graphs and pie charts using the water data supplied by City Schools.
More data from City Schools is available in the resources section of this website.
Please use the original data from City Schools to create your own graphs or check the accuracy of my graphs.
Here are some important items to consider when we interpret this data and create our graphs and charts.
1) Schools vary by size, so we would expect to see some differences in energy and water use between schools because of their size.
You may want to create graphs that show the square footage of the building next to their water or energy use.
2) Poly/Western share a campus and their energy/utility systems, so we need to combine them to effectively benchmark their energy/water use or compare them to
other schools. Delegating water use to one school and oil to another when in fact they are sharing these resources is not helpful in understanding how these
schools use energy.
3) Sometimes the data can simply be wrong. Errors in gathering, tabulating or calculating data can give us false data, so it is wise to check for these errors
as we interpret the numbers.
4) We would also need to consider the effect of operations and mission of a school. Having a pool could increase water use a bit, having air conditioning
or staying open longer for school events could increase energy use. These things support students and the community, so we don’t see this as waste.
Our work is to eliminate energy waste (lights and equipment on 24/7, broken windows, inefficient systems) so we can fund the things that help us learn and
5) Does the presentation of our information (graph, chart, written or spoken language) clearly and accurately explain the situation?
6) Did we include all relevant data and captions explaining how to interpret and act on the information we supply?
7) Is a high utility bill a temporary problem that is solved immediately, or is it a long term problem that hasn’t been addressed?
I’m looking forward to seeing your charts and graphs on the energy and water use of the Baltimore City Public Schools.