School Choice Doesn’t Deliver What It Promises

by E. Joseph Schneider

Providing both a stimulating and healthy learning environment requires a delicate duality for most school leaders. We are accustomed to spending our days on intellectually stimulating environments, but what constitutes a healthy learning environment?

I asked 10 people that question. Here’s what they said.

The personnel director said a healthy school environment surely includes hiring the right people for the jobs, conducting criminal background and reference checks, checking the sex offender website and conducting Google and My-Space searches to see if any embarrassing information turns up. It means ensuring new hires have the required tests and immunizations. And it means training staff in chemical hazard disposal, CPR and first aid, classroom management and prevention of sexual harassment.

The safety director offered that a healthy school environment means secure facilities: security cameras; driver’s license scanners to check criminal and sex offender lists of all visitors; emergency preparedness plans; school programs to teach peaceful conflict resolution; and crisis management, student discipline and fire safety procedures.

The food services director recommended programs on wellness and nutrition and procedures for handling students with food allergies.

The technology director suggested a healthy school environment should include security measures for all data.

The school nurses said the physical and mental health of staff and students were tops on their list. They wanted to see nutrition, wellness, exercise and mental health included in the curriculum.

The facility managers, engineers and architects said a healthy school environment meant snow removal, clean facilities, prevention plans, environmentally safe cleaning supplies, pesticide-free integrated pest management, moisture and mold prevention and removal, radon testing, asbestos management, green energy consumption and healthy indoor air quality.

I came away with more ideas than I had imagined! What an array of complex and important tasks school leaders complete in order to keep students safe and healthy. To make this task seem more manageable, I developed the 10 P’s of Healthy Schools. Here they are:

No. 1: People. Hire good people and train them well. Teach students about healthy environments.

No. 2: Places. Ensure facilities are healthy, safe and conducive to learning.

No. 3: Programs. Attend to personal health, facility health and world health.

No. 4: Planning. Keep the importance of healthy indoor air quality and safe facilities on the front burner when making long-range strategic plans.

No. 5: Prevention. Make practicing prevention a daily habit and teach prevention strategies to students, staff and parents.

No. 6: Protection. Train everyone to be alert and mindful of the health and safety of the entire community.

No. 7: Preparation. Join AASA’s efforts to get schools ready for children by obtaining a copy of “Putting the Pieces Together: An Urban School Leader’s Guide to Healthy Indoor Environments.”

No. 8: Parents. Help parents understand healthy schools goals so they can be champions also.

No. 9: Politicians. Educate political leaders at all levels in the importance of healthy schools.

No. 10: Public. Help the public understand what it takes to create healthy schools, healthy minds and healthy environments for learning.

We know that student health is inextricably linked to student achievement. Creating healthy learning environments means giving everyone a better chance to learn and grow. It should be a priority for all of us.