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Small Steps to Help Your Child’s School Be More Healthy Today

With most children spending more than half of their waking hours at school, it goes without saying that thoughtful parents would want their child’s school to deliver not only exceptional academics but also a healthy and positive learning environment.

Like me, you might want to know what type of healthy food your child has access to, the amount of unstructured outdoor time during the day, if the arts are available, what sustainable living education is integrated into the curricula, if there is hidden mold and mildew, what is being done to reduce bus pollution, how much natural daylight is in each classroom, and if the school is maintained in a healthy and non-toxic way.

Today’s newly built, more-progressive schools are a prime example of healthy and sustainable learning environments. Not only are they constructed to LEED-certified standards for sustainability and health—which includes categories of water and energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and eco-friendly building materials—but they also take into account the holistic view of a school within its community.

But if your school isn’t new, like approximately 120,000 U.S. schools, it becomes an opportunity for positive change. Parents, teachers, administrators, and students can work together toward improving a school’s health and sustainability. Even within stressed budgets, meaningful creativity and committed determination can make a difference.

Looking for where to start? Here are some small steps you can take to help your child’s school be more healthy and encourage sustainability today:

  • Attend a Day of Service: September 29, 2012 is the first-ever Green Apple Day of Service, an initiative from the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council. Jumpstart your support network by joining a local school service project in your community.
  • Support Unstructured Outdoor Recess: Young children need time away from the classroom to de-stress, socialize, get natural daylight, benefit from greenscapes, and expend pent-up energy. Ask your child’s school if there is recess and if it is conducted in a true “leisure” way with physical activities like sports and unstructured play.
  • Initiate an Idle-Free Zone: Ask for a campus policy that no buses or cars idle in front of the school. This can immediately improve the school’s outdoor air and any of the air that circulates into the educational buildings.
  • Create a Compost Program: Work together with students, teachers, and administrators to create a program for capturing compostable lunchroom scraps. Integrate the compost into a science-classroom curriculum along with a year-round school garden.
  • Conduct a Water and Energy Audit: Plan an audit day to map the school and meticulously detail all the energy- and water-saving opportunities. Later, this audit can be broken down into categories and costs, along with projected savings. Parent and student volunteers can work with school administrators to create a five- or 10-year roadmap for a more energy- and water-efficient campus.
  • Encourage Green Procurement: Help your school green its purchasing of everything from paper to cleaning supplies by becoming a member of the Responsible Purchasing Network, an initiative started by the Center for a New American Dream.

More ideas for creating a healthy and sustainable school can be found at:

Terra Wellington has been a guest on such programs as Chicago’s WGN, The Daily Buzz, The Montel Williams Show, WCBS’ This Morning, and Martha Stewart Radio. She is the author of The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green and the former wellness editor of Fit Body and Real. In addition to contributing to numerous magazines and websites, she’s an actress and mom. More at www.terrawellington.com and Twitter: @terrawellington.

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