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Safer schools through environmental design
Often beginning in preschool and continuing through higher education, some 5.9 million students spend thousands of hours in the classroom or school environment each year. It only makes sense that this environment is a safe and comfortable one for students and staff alike.This is where environmental design can come in to play.
According to www.dictionary.com, environmental design is the ordering of the large-scale aspects of the environment by means of architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, urban planning, regional planning, etc., usually in combination.Currently in education there seem to be two major areas of environmental design that more and more schools are adopting in some capacity: The “greening” of schools and the implementation of environmental design to improve safety and reduce school violence. Why? Because many schools are realizing these benefits:

  • Improved learning—The benefits of environmental design are illustrated by a study of Chicago and Washington, D.C. schools that found that better school facilities can add three to four percentage points to a school’s standardized test scores. Building completely green only adds to these statistics: A recent study of the cost and benefits of green schools for Washington State estimated a 15 percent reduction in absenteeism and a 5 percent increase in student test scores. Here in Canada, the Alberta government is rolling out 14 new energy-efficient, LEED-certified schools over the next several years in hopes of improving learning levels and reducing energy costs.
  • Better concentration—Many green schools install lined ductwork and HVAC systems, along with ceiling tiles that have been made from natural or recycled materials. It’s these materials that have also been shown to improve classroom acoustics, allowing students to hear better and concentrate more effectively, and teachers to speak clearly without strain. Additionally, many LEED-certified schools have indicated that the natural lighting provided by an energy-efficient tactic called daylighting is more conducive to concentration and creates a less stressful environment. Skylights and oversized windows are used to let the light shine in, while blinds can be installed to reduce glare or distribute light throughout a room, respectively. Educate parents and students about these benefits to rally support of funding to implement in your own school—send information home with students, along with a fun and memorable items like these Grab and Go Sun Kits, Plant in a Bag or Fold-up Flier Globe Shape.
  • Reduced energy costs—Like the use of natural light instead of artificial light, there are many aspects of green that not only provide a better environment for learning but are cost-effective over time. Other options include installing water-saving faucets and other energy-saving plumbing, constructing solar panels or using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. Bright Idea USB Drive are a great way to spread awareness of this benefit.
  • Natural surveillance—Landscaping, windows, breezeways and other tactics in layout can work to maximize visibility throughout a school to make students and staff more aware of their surroundings and of each other. For example, windows by entries and exits allow students to see out and in, while lockers that line a perimeter create an open environment and diminish corners that are out of view from hall monitors and staff. Make sure students have an adult in eyeshot throughout the hall passing times in case they need help—if your school gets crowded during these times, consider giving hall monitors brightly coloured Sport Shirts to make them even more identifiable.
  • Access management—Schools that implement this type of environmental design utilize a plethora of clear signage to clearly mark entrances and exits on both the interior and exterior of facilities (often with numbers or letters) and/or limit access to certain areas using real or symbolic barriers—such as a hedge or the path of a sidewalk. Doing so helps protect people while on school property and, in the case of marking doors, can aid staff or fire and rescue teams in approaching an emergency in the most direct way possible. Signage can also help guests feel more welcomed. Use temporary guides, like additional signage or footprints, to guide parents and guests around the school during special events or conferences.

Students, teachers and administrative staff spend a lot of time in the classroom or on school grounds. It only makes sense that their time spent in this environment is comfortable, safe and healthy—consideration to environmental design can help schools achieve this.

A Portrait of the school-age population.Statistics Canada. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.

“Environmentally Friendly Schools.” U.S. Green Building Council. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

“Plan to build 14 new schools moves to next stage.” Alberta Education. Web. 1 May 2009.

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