The Air Isn’t Fair

After a year puntuated with protest chants of “I can’t breath!,” another important social and equity
issue is being noticed: the poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) affecting millions of students in our schools.

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For decades, schools–especially schools in low income districts–have been failing to provide students
with air quality which we expect in businesses, offices and government buildings.
Too many of our children are stuck in old schools with either no air conditioning or antiquated systems
(think rusty window units) which fail to provide the ventilation, purification, and temperature control
required to create healthy and productive classroom environments. The air, ain’t fair.

This lack of air quality in poor schools is particularly egregious since students in low income areas
are far more likely to have childhood asthma which can be aggravated by poor air quality at their school.
Baltimore children are twice as likely to have childhood asthma than children throughout the state,
Why does that matter? Asthma is the leading health cause of missed school days in Baltimore.
Right now, we can create real and lasting improvements in the health and learning of our children by
investing infrastructure and educational funding to improve the air quality at our schools.

At the federal level, we should demand federal infrastructure funding to achieve ASHRAE standards for
IAQ in every school. We should advocate for funding of the EPA, and specifically for increased funding
for the Tools For Schools program which promotes improved air quality for our schools through
education and partnerships with schools.

At the state level, we need to continue to pressure Governor Hogan to provide funding for schools
so every school meets ASHRAE standards for Indoor Air Quality. Gov. Hogan has expressed
frustration with some school districts for not installing new HVAC systems at their schools, but he has
also balked at providing full school funding. . Healthy air and comfortable classrooms
improve student performance. This should be a priority and provided by the state in accordance with our
state constitutional requirement to educate our children. Want better test scores? Improve IAQ.

School districts should use their funds wisely and expediently to improve IAQ at their schools.
They should invest in proven technologies including HVAC systems, filtration systems and
stand alone air purifiers, not chemical or plasma systems which pose dangers to students.
They should monitor and post IAQ data for their schools and use the Tools for Schools program to
reduce harmful chemicals, pests and asthma triggers from their schools. Importantly, they should
hold more classes, lunches and recesses outside, where the air quality is often far better than indoors.

Shan Gordon, Well AP

Shan has engaged students in Baltimore in studying and improving the environmental conditions at their schools. He is always impressed with the students and depressed by the conditions at their schools.

Healthy Students during Covid-19

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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 six areas where we could help students protect and improve their health and learning over the next four to six 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. 

Using home health as a science project, we can help students 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 which problems their family can fix and whether they should receive help from the health department or the Green and Healthy Home Initiative.

Helping students create effective study areas to study, avoid distractions, and take breaks to keep themselves happy and alert is critical to helping students excel. Dancing, mindfulness, and exercise breaks can help students maintain their focus.

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. When teachers join this “Better You” challenge, they can inspire their students to join them in becoming their personal best.

3)Educate students on COVID-19 health strategies: We are partnering with teaching candidates at Morgan State University to engage students in the science and fun of Covid-19 safety. From why and how to wear a mask, to discovering how well they wash their hands (with ultra violet gel), to Tik-Tock dance challenges on Covid-19 safety tips, students will learn how to lower their risks during Covid-19.

4)Encourage students to teach their peers 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 we will encourage our students to create videos, paintings, dances, and songs to teach their peers how to stay safe during Covid-19.

5)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.

6)Engage students in monitoring health conditions at the school when they return. Students perceive problems quickly and are eager to help solve them. As a science project, students would 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.

7)Connect students and families to health care, social services, and food resources. During this pandemic and economic downturn, it is vital that students and their families are connected to the health and social services that they need. Our program will maintain a comprehensive listing of community resources and offer assistance in accessing the help they need.

The Learning Project that could Save Your Life –and help your students thrive.

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Remember when the biggest fears of going back to school was whether your classroom was organized or your child had all the right supplies?   This year the questions are tougher:

Will returning to school sicken or kill you, your students, their parents or grandparents?

 If we don’t return, will our students lose the social interactions, safety, nutrition and learning which they need to grow?

If our goal as educators is to help protect and nurture our children, (and not die), we need to redesign how we engage our students.  We have to stop teaching subjects and start helping students solve problems.  As we switched to distance learning, some teachers joined together to create fabulous online lessons and projects for their students.  Some teachers have found ways to engage their students in social interactions, stress reduction, and ensured that they received food, computers and internet connections.   But way too many teachers have simply been trying to simply replicate their old classroom lessons online.  And way too many students are simply not showing up.

For years, we have talked about the benefits of student projects which span multiple subjects, of teaching to the whole child, of improving the health of our children because these things help our children thrive.  These were great ideas before COVID-19, they are absolutely vital now.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the ultimate breakout room exercise.  We have to solve a myriad of complex problems to be able to escape to safety.   No need to pay hundreds of dollars to get locked in a room with your team needing to solve problems–we are already in lock down.   

Been searching for an authentic learning project for our children and for educators?  How’s this one?

How can we improve our health and safety and thrive as learners and problem solvers?

During distance learning, here are steps that can help you and your students thrive.

  • Engage students in talking about their needs and wants during the pandemic.  What type of services, learning and contacts do they need? 
  • Create a dialogue and charting for a variety of success factors for students.  Nutrition, sleep, exercise, social contacts, volunteering.   By focusing on the factors that determine student performance, we will set up students for lifetime health and success.  Healthy students and teachers are less likely to catch and transmit COVID-19 and far less likely to die if they do contract it. 
  •  Engage students in learning how to improve the health and learning conditions at their homes. Baltimore’s childhood asthma rate is nearly twice the state average.  Learning how to improve the home air quality, how to create a study schedule, and how to create an effective study space can help students succeed.
  • Engage students in learning and communicating proper health behaviors to their peers.  Students more likely conform to a social norm from their peers than a rule by a school official. 
  • Share information on social and emotional resources: food, medical services, COVID-19 testing, where those with COVID-19 can go to isolate from their families.
  • Create teacher teams to produce the best lessons and the best social/ emotional support for students.  Frankly, some teachers are great at presenting material, and some are better at nurturing, guiding and supporting their students.  Distance learning enables teachers to work in the roles where they are most successful.
  • Engage students in teams to increase social interactions and learning as they study and solve complex problems together.
  • Engage students in talent and show and tell performances for their peers. 
  • Engage students in peer tutoring and knowledge exchange. 
  • Engage students and experts in health, building engineering and operations, data science, and social policy in understanding and improving factors that influence their health, safety and success.  (i.e. technology equity, resources, transportation and health care).
  • Collaborate with these same experts and students in developing a plan to reopen schools with safe behaviors and operations.  Students would prepare a plan for safe transportation, social distancing, disinfection of touch points, air ventilation and air flow, and alternative outdoor classes when appropriate.  Students and teachers would learn how to monitor health and safety factors for their school environment and operations. 

As schools reopen, students would monitor the health and safety factors at their schools and collaborate with school officials to offer suggestions and innovations to increase health and safety for students and school staff.

Let me know if you would like some help in doing this.



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The Covid-19 pandemic changes health outcomes in both negative and positive ways. Working from home may reduce Mary’s risk of death from a car accident, and lower her likelihood of catching Covid-19 or a cold. But while he may never contract Covid 19, how will her health be affected if she can’t see her doctor, afford and obtain her medicine, or talk with a mental health professional about her depression? While we are drawn to focus on the death count and positive tests for Covid-19, we also need to consider the impacts of this crisis on the wider population.

Covid-19 has laid bare the inadequacies and inequalities in our social, economic and health systems. If we can shift our
health resources and adjust our emergency responses and our health and social system to care for all, then the lessons of this terrible and dangerous pandemic may save many lives.

Celebrating Earth Day Gifts

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Protesters urge Mayor Young to file a legal appeal to protect the Baltimore Clean Energy Act during a Die In on Earth Day. They held the protest near the Wheelabrator garbage incinerator in Baltimore to draw attention to the health effects of the air pollution produced by the plant. Wheelabrator is the largest single source of air pollution in Baltimore. The City filed their appeal on the same day.

Happy 50th, Earth Day

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Funny, how you’ve been around for 4.543 billion years and we’ve just now started celebrating your birth five decades ago. And mostly we’ve started counting because we’ve noticed that we’ve been rough on you.

So here is a toast to you and all that you give us, like life, breath, beauty and the caress of wind and waves. Maybe this next year. we will try harder to be worthy of you and worthy of ourselves. Love to you, Mother Earth.