Turning a negative situation into a positive one is no easy task. For representatives in the Richmond County School System, it was their mission to do just that.
To identify the technical and programmatic IAQ management challenges they were facing as a district — and to learn how they could make a difference — representatives from the district attended the 2011 IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium as a Design Challenge School District. At the Symposium, they received advice and guidance from other participants on effective strategies to put into action. Armed with this knowledge, they began to see the district’s issues, such as high asthma rates and limited resources, as an opportunity to change the status quo.
Richmond County School System representatives made clear goals to make a positive impact in their schools and to provide healthy learning environments for their students. They also needed to introduce an educational component to their efforts and secure buy-in from the community. To accomplish this, they began educating parents, teachers, facilities and maintenance staff, and other members of the school community about the importance of IAQ and the health effects it can have on students. They also engaged everyone in the school community — from the superintendent to the facilities and maintenance staff members — to ensure that they were on board with the IAQ management plan.
The district’s actions led to amazing results, but more needed to be done. The district sought mentorship from a school district in a nearby state, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in North Carolina. The guidance and best practices that CMS shared, which were based on the successes they had experienced using the IAQ Tools for Schools guidance, helped Richmond County School System develop a stronger IAQ management plan.
Playing a New Role — Providing Mentorship at a Regional Training
On February 23, 2012, 140 school IAQ champions came together in Athens, Ga., for the Healthy School Environments Across the South training. School representatives attended this training to learn how to create and maintain green and healthy indoor environments in their schools.
Richmond County School System representatives attended the training, and served as a mentor school district. Representatives from the district gave a comprehensive overview of their success story, sharing how they were able to use the Framework for Effective School IAQ Management to fit their IAQ needs and challenges. They also met and provided mentorship to other school districts that were just getting their programs off the ground. Although Richmond County School System is still growing and learning best practices, the mentorship they provided helped other districts start to plan and execute their own IAQ management plans.
The Power of Students’ Voices
At the Healthy School Environments Across the South training event, Richmond County shared a video that features its students expressing the importance of IAQ management through poetry, dance and music. The video, produced by Michael G. Hennessy, the Broadcasting and Film Instructor at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, showcases the students’ points of view on the effects IAQ can have on health and productivity. The students use their talents to convey the need to control mold, clutter, pests and other IAQ issues in schools. They also encourage behavior change from all members of the school community. Watch this creative and inspiring video at the bottom of the Richmond County IAQ website: http://www.rcboe.org/groups/indoor-air-quality-(iaq)
To find a mentor in your area, visit EPA’s IAQ Champions map and click on your state to read about the obstacles and successes of neighboring school districts that may have a story similar to yours. By gaining mentors, partners and advocates, you can learn how to take charge of your school district’s greatest challenges.
By LaShon Blakely, U.S. EPA Region 4