My school district needs new buildings, and I am proud to advocate for my students. I recently was asked to be a guest columnist in our city newspaper, and I wrote about the impact of the environment on learning. Shown below, it is a revised version of a previous post here on The Green Pen:
From The News-Messenger
Fremont teacher shares need for new schools
On May 2, Fremont voters will be asked to support the construction of new schools. Citizens who do not have the opportunity to spend time in the buildings during the school day rightfully wonder what is wrong with the current buildings. They are clean, sturdy, and have provided many years of service. As a classroom teacher at Croghan Elementary, and a parent of children in the district, I would like to share with you my perspective on this important issue.
Despite ongoing maintenance and repair efforts to Croghan, it was designed in a different era and no longer provides the learning environment our children need. In 1929, when it was built, students attended school about 120 days each year, children with special needs did not attend regular public school, and little was known about how people learn. Today, all children are welcome to receive a public education with their peers for 180 days each year, and we know that the classroom environment greatly impacts learning.
One case in point is the acoustics of my classroom. My room was constructed with the hard surfaces and 90 degree angles of its day, creating a distracting echo out of the fan and the low murmur of voices. Science tells us that this constant sensory input to children’s brains causes poor performance on learning tasks. New schools, built with proper acoustics, have walls crafted to absorb sound, and air systems are virtually noiseless.
Poor lighting also takes a toll on learning. The fluorescent lights illuminate well, but also cause headaches and eye strain, serious issues when we know that students who read more, achieve more. New schools are designed to use natural light which is much easier on the eyes and is even shown to improve mood.
Another issue in our classrooms is space. My classroom is too small to implement proven best practices such as project-based learning. New schools, on the other hand, are built with these space issues in mind and include features such as movable walls and inside windows that allow teachers to expand spaces while still monitoring student activity.
Computers are no longer a luxury in schools. However, precious learning time in my classroom is wasted when my students must wait for simple websites to load on their Chromebooks. Therefore, I avoid some rich, wonderful online resources which could push my students’ critical thinking and engagement to higher levels; the data simply take too long to load through the building’s limited bandwidth. New buildings deliver state-of-the-art connectivity and allow students to experience the full possibilities of the web.
However, my biggest concern with our aged buildings is safety and accessibility. We have had instances of students temporarily using wheelchairs necessarily being carried upstairs by their parents in the morning before school and carried back down by them at the end of the day. Moreover, in the quiet of lockdown drills while waiting for the all-clear, it becomes apparent that students are unprotected in classrooms if someone wants to do them harm. Classroom doors open out into the hallways, so we cannot stack furniture against doors to prevent entry. There is no phone in my classroom to call for assistance. New schools are built with student safety and accessibility in mind. Doors open into classrooms, cameras monitor the space, facilities are barrier-free for students with mobility issues, and every room has a phone.
As a professional educator, I am charged with advocating for the children I teach. I ask you to please consider children and their learning when you vote on May 2.