width= A Safe and Healthful School Environment

By: Dr. Michelle MD
 
As the new school year approaches, it is time to think about the school environment in which our children will soon find themselves. They will spend many hours a day in school in the coming months. We are always careful to make sure that our homes are safe and clean. We owe it to our children to ensure the same standard in the schools they attend. There are many different factors that should be considered.

Cleanliness
The most important areas to be maintained are the bathrooms and the school kitchens. The maintenance of school bathrooms requires frequent cleaning and provision of supplies. Toilet paper, soap, and paper towels, are essential. Cloth towels are not acceptable since they spread bacteria. If you can smell your way to the bathroom in your child’s school it is not being cleaned with proper frequency and thoroughness. Despite the fact that budgets are tight, this kind of maintenance is literally essential to the health of the children. There have been numerous epidemics of Dysentery that have been traced to bathroom hygiene. Hand sanitizer has been found to be very effective in controlling the spread of these germs. It would be a good idea to have a dispenser at the exit of each bathroom. One quick squirt that is rubbed on the hands and air dried is all that is needed. School kitchens must also be kept meticulously clean.

Maintenance of the physical plant of the school
Broken windows and window guards, broken steps, peeling paint on walls and ceilings, broken desks, faulty wiring and other such hazards must be repaired, not only at the end of the school year, but as they are discovered. Boilers and heating systems need constant maintenance.

Lighting and ventilation
In order to ensure optimal learning conditions there must be good lighting and ventilation.

Fire Safety
All schools are required to have fire evacuation plans, fire extinguishers, and fire drills. These requirements are not to be taken casually.

Schoolyard Safety
There must be good supervision in every schoolyard while the children play. Some schools have trailers and busses parked in places that are accessible to the kids. These areas must be monitored to make sure the children are safe. There can be unsafe hidden activities going on under and in these vehicles during recess. If the schoolyard is a blocked off street, supervision is required to make sure that the cars that do get through do not endanger the children.

Nutritional environment
Besides the physical safety of our children we should also be concerned that they are in a good nutritional environment during the school day. The obesity epidemic in America is definitely affecting all of us. There are more obese and overweight children in this generation than ever before. Overweight kids are much more vulnerable than people who become overweight as adults. They develop Diabetes much more quickly. It has been clearly shown that the nutritional environment is a critical factor in this epidemic. This includes the foods that are given to the kids, the foods that are made available to them, and how their eating habits and tastes and preferences are developed during childhood. Even drinks are very important. Soda and juices are liquid sugar. Water and milk should be the choices. Since even our toddlers spend significant time in school, the food in school is a very important factor.

Healthy snack policies are a very good start. Rewards and parties that emphasize sweets and greasy junk food set terrible precedents as the kids develop their taste preferences. School lunch and suppers should be planned with good nutrition in mind. We cannot simply wring our hands in despair about the candy and junk in school. We owe it to our kids to work on their nutritional environment in school.

Bus Safety
There should be an adult monitor on busses that carry small children. The sight of children standing in their seats, fighting, and hanging out of bus windows is terrifying to all of us. Short stops happen without warning. We must do our best to ensure that our kids are safe on their busses.


Walking Safety

Most children could walk to school if a safe walking environment were provided. Walking provides more than just exercise. It is as good for the mind as it is for the body. Everyone feels good after a walk. There are several reasons we do not let most of our youngsters walk to school.
  

  •  There is danger on the streets.         
  •  Our kids cannot walk more than a quarter of a mile.   
  •  Their books are too heavy.             
  •  We are too busy to walk them to school.

    All of these arguments are true but maybe we could reconsider the matter. If we got the board of education to hire crossing guards on all of the major crossings, walking to school would be safer. The guards would also be a deterrent to unsavory adult encounters. The expense would be less than busses. We could hire teenagers to pick up little kids and walk them to school in groups.

    Why are we coddling our children?
    We must try to get them moving! A seven year old can easily walk a mile in 20 minutes. If the books are heavy give them rolling knapsacks. If the weather is wet they can wear boots and raincoats like we did when we were children. Most of us walked to school. Our kids are getting the wrong message. Why do we take them everywhere by car? One mile is not too far. Most kids live closer than that to their school.

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