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.

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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.

Shan 

410-336-8239

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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If you want students to learn, let them test their schools.

IMG_7440s by . 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.

Mentors

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.

Teacher Training

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.

Extensions

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.

Experiment You

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How Students Can Improve Their Health And Learning.

 

Our schools constantly test our students to measure their achievement.

But if we want to improve student achievement, it’s time for students to test their schools.

 

  • Are classrooms too hot or too cold?
  • Are pest and mold problems causing asthma attacks and absences?
  • Are students getting enough exercise and water?
  • Do students need glasses to read the board and their textbooks?
  • Does poor bus service cause students to be late or miss school?
  • Are lunches nutritious and palatable?
  • Why are so many students still failing to succeed in math and science?

 

Challenging students to investigate and improve their health and learning engages them in a meaningful, real world scientific inquiry.

It is a perfect fit for STEM, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core curriculum. 

Students get hands on training for careers in health, building, teaching, and social science.

 

Students see how they can use science and innovation to improve their lives.

 

Experiment You  engages students as scientists and problem solvers in a very real and important experiment: how can we use our learning and innovation to improve our lives?

As a STEM based inquiry, students use surveys, observations, and tools to benchmark their health and the health and learning conditions at their school.

 

Surveys
Students learn to create and use surveys to gain information on student health and school conditions.

How many students have missed school because of asthma related issues? What classrooms are too hot or cold? Where have students seen mold, mice or cockroaches? Are students getting enough healthy foods, sleep and exercise?

 

Tools for Schools
Using the Tools for Schools walk through assessment from EPA, students discover and report asthma triggers at their schools.

 

Operations Report Card
Using the Operations report card protocol from the Collaboration for High Performing Schools (CHPS) students collect and analyze data on the temperature, humidity, air quality, lighting and acoustics.

 

Energy Star Portfolio Manager
Using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, students can benchmark the carbon footprint of their school and compare the energy use of their school to similar schools in their area. Students identify ways to eliminate energy waste at their school.Solving for …us.
After collecting this data, students are challenged to create improvements in each of these areas. Finding ways to improve their health and the conditions at their school engages students in real world problem solving at ground level.

 

  • Can cross ventilation reduce excessive heat in classrooms or does the air conditioning need to be fixed?
  • Why are the outdoor security lights on in the daytime?
  • How can students help reduce the amount of pests in the school without chemicals?
  • How can we reduce asthma related absences at our school?
  • Is there an easy way to screen students for vision problems?

 

Engaging students in solving problems which they face,

challenges them to take control and responsibility of their own learning and futures.

 

Every school is a laboratory and every student is an experiment.

The question is whether our students will remain lab rats running a maze, or whether they become scientists and innovators, using their learning to improve their conditions and outcomes. This is rich learning that grows the confidence and competence of our students. It is time.
-Shan

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Experiment YOU

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In the experiment of our lives, we are either the lab rat or the scientist.  This is an important choice. Scientists win Nobel prizes. Things go badly for rats.

Shan

Experiment You
Engages students as scientists, innovators and engineers their own life experiment.

How can you become stronger and healthier?
How can you learn and remember more?
How can you create successful futures for yourself and your community?
Students will choose one personal goal and one group goal.
Students create baseline measurements of where they start, develop a plan and chart their progress as they work to accomplishing these goals.
Teachers and parents can also join in, developing their own plans to accomplish their goals.  It is important that students see adults working to achieve goals.                                                                                         And there is no better enforcement mechanism than a classroom of students looking over their teachers progress.

Experiment you enables students to use their own observations, learning and problem solving skills
to solve problems that matter to them.

Try this for a month in your classroom..and let us know how your experiment comes out.

The Importance of Being Insistent

The outdoor lights are blazing away trying to keep up with the bright sun shining outside of North Avenue–the Baltimore City Public Schools district office. It’s an interesting welcome to a meeting on sustainability policy.

 
But inside the board room, something is different. Purpose and determination.  As Cheryl Casciani, a school board member pages through the draft of the sustainability policy, she is pointing out parts of the policy that staff need to revise.

 
“Encourage isn’t strong enough,” We need to change it to Insist.”

 
Peering over her glasses at school officials, Casciani moves quickly through the document to ask for stronger policies to protect children. Her points are quick, thoughtful and insistent.

 

“I’d like all toxics out of our schools… stop bus idling in front of schools…it’s a health issue.”
For a school district that still hasn’t implemented green cleaning as required by the state, this insistence toward progress is necessary and overdue. Plagued with poorly maintained schools and a lack of resources, change will only come when it is demanded and verified.
But how can we verify that changes in policy to improve the health and learning of students will be implemented in our schools?

 
Let the students do it.

 
Let our students use their school as a science laboratory, gathering and analyzing data on factors that affect their health and learning. Using common professional tools and protocols, our student can monitor, analyze and report on the environmental factors that affect their health and learning.

 
Students can use Tools for Schools by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to proactively find and report issues that could trigger asthma attacks if left uncorrected. Using the Operations Report Card by the Collaboration for High Performance Schools (CHPS), students can monitor classroom ventilation, temperatures, humidity, and acoustics. Adding their school to the data base of the Energy Star Portfolio manager enables them to compare their energy use to similar schools and to calculate cost savings of energy renovations or improved operations.

 

 

As a hands-on science project investigating air quality, health, energy, engineering and technology, it aligns perfectly with Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core, Maryland Environmental Literacy requirements and STEM. This project studies the school as a system, integrating knowledge from the health professionals, facilities managers, custodians and teachers to improve the health and learning conditions at the school.
The information that students provide to the district could avoid or remedy health hazards, reduce repair costs and identify potential cost savings. In a pilot project at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, students and faculty noticed excessive water charges over a several year period. The city water department has now credited over $447,000 back to the school district. Not bad for a one week project.
This project empowers students to use science and innovation to improve their school environment, their learning, and their lives. We owe them this chance. Let’s insist upon it.

For all of our children, thanks, Cheryl.