Tangipahoa Parish School Superindendent and principals endorse Southeastern’s air quality improvement program
Contact: Rene Abadie
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SOUTHEASTERN PRESENTS AIR QUALITY PROGRAM TO PRINCIPALS Southeastern presented details on a planned indoor air quality program using the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Tools for Schools” guidelines to Tangipahoa Parish public school principals on Tuesday. Participating in the kick-off event were, from left, Southeastern student assistant Laura Vasut, EPA Region 6 Schools Coordinator Stacey Murphy, Superintendent Mark Kolwe, Southeastern Assistant Professsor Ephraim Massawe, and Tiffany Delcour of the Recovery School District in New Orleans.
HAMMOND Principals with the Tangipahoa Parish public schools were encouraged Tuesday (Feb. 14) to embrace an Environmental Protection Agency-sponsored indoor air quality (IAQ) improvement program as a way of improving the health of students, teachers, staff andothers.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show that an effective IAQ program can save money, improve the general health of students, teachers and staff, and decrease absenteeism, and, as a result, improve academic performance, said Southeastern Louisiana University occupational safety and health specialist Ephraim Massawe.
An assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Industrial Technology, Massawe is spearheading the IAQ program based on the EPA’s “Tools for Schools” program. A $38,000 grant from the EPA will target more than 40 public and private schools in the parish, as well as a number of private homes, where walk-through audits will identify sources of poor indoor air quality, evaluate those sources and recommend ways of controlling and monitoring with equipment and supplies provided through the grant.
“We need the principals’ support in helping find IAQ coordinators who can work with the Southeastern team of IAQ experts to improve the quality of indoor air in your schools,” he said.
Tangipahoa Parish School System Superintendent Mark Kolwe encouraged the principals to support the program. Kolwe’s signature to kick-off the program was followed by those of at least 35 public school principals in the parish who penned their names on a letter of commitment stating their support of the program.
“We want our teachers and employees to buy into this program as a way of benefiting the children,” Kolwe added.
Massawe explained that 130,000 children in Louisiana about 11 percent -- suffer with asthma, a chronic lung condition characterized by episodes of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma is one of the main causes of absenteeism among school children, which has a direct impact on academic performance. The disease, which is directly strongly associated with poor indoor air quality, occurs in about 16 percent of black children and eight percent of children of all other races.
School coordinators, with the help of the Southeastern team of experts, will be asked to conduct baseline surveys of environmental conditions in their schools, design and implement intervention plans, then conduct follow up research to determine the effectiveness of the interventions.
Massawe emphasized that most of the interventions are “low hanging fruit,” meaning they cost little to nothing to implement. In the end, schools and the parish, like many others who have implemented similar programs across the country, will realize monetary benefits from these interventions, he said. The coordinators will communicate in regular progress reports with Massawe and student assistant Laura Vasut.
The Southeastern team will also work with the school coordinators to train them on use of the equipment they will be provided and to help develop and implement action plans and cost-effective measures to improve the quality of air in their respective schools.
Schools Coordinator Stacey Murphy of EPA Region 6 in Dallas emphasized the leadership importance of principals and teachers in making decisions and taking action on behalf of the school children. He presented a framework for a successful implementation of IAQ at the local level, which consists of several elements, including transparency and communication of the outcomes and progress realized during the implementation of the IAQ program.
Murphy said scientific evidence demonstrates that improving indoor air quality has a direct impact on productivity at schools and also tends to improve performance of mental tasks, such as concentration and recall.
“It requires a team approach to be successful,” he emphasized. “Leadership is measured by influence, and we are asking you to use your positions to impact success.”
Examples of effective use of the Tools for Schools program was presented by Tiffany Delcour of the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans. Operating initially on an EPA grant, the RSD IAQ improvement program was so successful in reducing absenteeism that it is now completely funded by the school district, she said.
“We made data-driven decisions to use our limited resources in the most effective way,” she explained.
With issues such as deferred maintenance being determined as a major cause of problems, the district adopted a proactive, facility culture that is implemented in both older school structures and new buildings as they are brought into operation.
“By following the approaches and plans of the EPA program, you can actually see a real difference in health outcomes among the children,” she added.