by Tara Kennon, HSC communications manager
Here at HSC, we love it when wellness and sustainability meet – especially when the topics merge in discussions of an issue as exciting and promising as green schools. We’ve long advocated for further development of “healthy, high performing” schools – a term that covers both a school’s impact on the environment (often its energy efficiency) and its impact on student health and learning. Attributes such as well-designed ventilation system can make a school healthy and high-performing. So can daylighting or good acoustics.
Lately, we’ve started to have more conversations with our partners about how to integrate wellness into the ways we all think and talk about green schools. How does a kitchen outfitted with the equipment to prepare healthy meals fit into our definition of a healthy school? What about adequate space for children to be physically active?
And perhaps most important: how does a school building that supports wellness shape student learning?
question is at the heart of a new book (and related online community), The Third Teacher, which discusses the ways that the environment – in this case the
built environment, the school facility – has a dramatic impact on student
HSC board member Vince Iturralde, principal of Tarkington School of Excellence, a public elementary school on Chicago’s southwest side and the first LEED-certified green school in the city, eloquently explains the benefits of a school building that supports learning and wellness in a Chicago Public Radio story exploring the subject:
Iturralde says one of the unique elements, is how Tarkington shares land and space with the park district.
That’s meant a larger gym, and a field where kids can play during recess. The Park District also offers pre-school and after-school programs that Tarkington kids attend.
ITURRALDE: Students need to be active. They keep the kids constantly busy. And when the kids are constantly busy, they stay out of trouble. And so violence goes down, crime goes down, and our students’ success rate goes up.
Principal Iturralde says teachers use the green features to highlight the school’s environmental focus. And the teachers voted to extend their day so the kids could have recess and run all over that grassy field.
ITURRALDE: It was the first LEED certified school in the city of Chicago, which had huge advantages that were unforeseen. It was amazing how many different things evolved from the building itself.
using the setting for hands-on lessons in the gardens, the field or even some
The story also takes listeners to a school in nearby Barrington, where students spend their days in desks designed to allow movement throughout the day:
this classroom in District 220 in Barrington, about half the class is literally
bouncing up and down. One kid is sitting on a big gym ball modified to look
like a chair. Other fourth-graders are in chairs with inflatable cushions on
them. There’s a tall desk with a swing bar that a boy is kicking against over
and over again.
You’d think it would be chaos.
Simon says it’s just the opposite. Simon is an assistant superintendent here.
SIMON: It just is not a natural thing to make kids sit for six hours a day. This provides opportunities for children to be able to move in a natural way that learning still continues.
Simon points to students like Jaycee Carden who are moving in place, but still focused on their work.
I usually do better in the chair, like I can think quicker when I’m in this
chair because I’m also getting a lot of energy out at the same time, so it
helps me think a little more.
The Third Teacher spotlights ideas such as these – daylight, gardens, bouncy chairs – that are considered innovative for school design although they are often based on simple observations (“a lot of kids fidget”) as much as on new technologies. The ideas range from “#20: Make Peace with Fidgeting” to suggestions that teachers talk with students about how green technology works, using it as a learning tool.