The Cape Elizabeth School Department is one of 23 school departments and colleges in the country to enroll in a new initiative to create healthier environments for their students.
The Healthy Green Schools & Colleges pilot program, spawned from a partnership between the nonprofit Green Seal and Healthy Schools Campaign organizations, aims to help schools identify and act upon ways they can improve student health. Much of the program is focused on improving schools’ HVAC systems and air quality at low or no costs.
“We’re kind of guinea pigs for the standard that Healthy Green Schools & Colleges is trying to create,” said David Bagdasarian, facilities director for the town and the school department.
Bagdasarian and the two organizations note that air quality in schools has an impact on student performance. According to the program’s website, schools with better ventilation systems can increase test scores by 15%. The program also says students with asthma miss fewer school days when air quality is improved.
As an early adopter of the program, Cape Elizabeth schools were presented with “a pretty comprehensive list of things we had to scale our own department on,” Bagdasarian said.
The program’s self assessment helped him identify areas that need improvement, most notably the need to regularly assess the schools’ air quality.
“I shouldn’t just be air-quality testing because we have a pipe break, I should have a routine going,” he said. “I’ve probably done about 12 air quality tests this year.”
While his tests didn’t raise much concern over the air quality in Cape schools, they did show room for improvement in the cleaning chemicals the school department uses.
“This group thinks that the greener the chemicals you use, it’s better for the air quality,” Bagdarsarian said, and they were given recommendations of Green Seal certified chemicals to use. “I switched to a Buckeye International chemical. They are super green all the way to their packaging.”
The pilot program is designed to help schools and colleges find ways to improve as soon as they enroll.
“Right off the bat, schools can understand how it measures up against the standard,” said Sara Porter, Healthy Schools Campaign vice president of external affairs, and director of the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program. “The standard is pretty broad in scope, but really provides a bar for schools to look to in terms of their entire facility management program.”
The program sets standards for not just indoor air quality but cleaning products, pest management and HVAC and electrical maintenance.
The ultimate goal, Porter said, is for school departments and colleges to eventually receive a Green Seal certification.
“They can share that with their larger school community and be recognized for the level of excellence they’ve achieved,” she said. “We’re really excited to have Cape Elizabeth be a part of the group of early adopters … They seem to be a district that is a leader in the area in a number of ways, so it would be a great example for other schools in the area and the state.”
South Portland dog rules headed for final approval