Maintaining a Healthy Classroom Environment

Healthy Classroom

PHOTO © ELNUR

A healthy classroom enables students and teachers to be at their best, physically, mentally and emotionally. Creating and maintaining a healthy classroom involves addressing issues in a holistic way as part of an ecosystem.

Healthy indoor air quality, water, ambient sound, lighting, cleaning, disinfecting, ergonomics, and more, are discussed in related chapters. We summarize other healthy-classroom system factors below.

Physically Healthy Classrooms

Childhood and adolescent obesity have increased dramatically in recent years, and more than one-third of adults are obese (Ref: CDC).

While sound diet and nutrition are vital, students and teachers should exercise and burn enough calories to be healthy and combat obesity.

Beyond supporting sports and physical education (PE), consider standing desks as they serve a dual purpose of heightening concentration and cognitive activity while burning calories. A 170-pound person burns 186 calories an hour standing vs 139 calories sitting, as the legs and back work harder when standing.

If your classroom is a “sitting” one, arrange for the class to stand up, stretch, and take breaks at regular intervals.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup from exhalation can create a lethargic and unhealthy classroom, so make ventilation a priority by working with your HVAC department. Indoor CO2 buildup is a surrogate for elevated VOCs in general because if fresh air ventilation is poor, other gases will build up in the classroom as well. Request a simple CO2, temperature, and relative humidity meter (less than$130) to periodically check your classroom CO2. Partner with HVAC professionals to finetune these health factors.

Mentally and Emotionally Healthy Classroom

Foster openness, support, and acceptance by applying these tips:

  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2015, 12.5 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17 had a major depressive episode, so be sensitive to the prevalence of this illness.
  • Normalize discussion about mental/emotional health by bringing it up regularly and in a matter-of-fact way.
  • Get familiar with local mental health resources, post sources in the classroom, and call attention to them. Post the contact info of the school’s mental health professional or guidance counselor.
  • Try to make students feel safe about sharing their feelings. This will make it easier to identify, prevent and deal with problems.
  • Ask students to do a healthy “self-checkup” by handing each one a worksheet saying: “Let’s do a self-checkup to know what we’re feeling, and look at problems or worries that bother us. Using an A, B, C, D or F — grade how you feel right now. Jot your name on the paper, fold it so no one else can read it, and hand it in to me. You don’t need to share your grade with others, but if you are a D or lower, check the ‘want to talk’ box, and we’ll talk in private.”
  • Ask students to jot down the names of fellow students who seem unhappy, unhealthy, or unstable, and place the folded slips anonymously in a “Help Others” box to be checked regularly by a school counselor or other health professional.

In short, show you care, and are there.

Reprinted from The Healthy and Safe Facility Handbook, published by the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI). You can view the handbook at spaces4learning.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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