Last week I attended a four-day professional development Institute in suburban Virginia. The event was held in an elementary school. As I drove to the site, I noticed many houses in the neighborhood looked familiar.
When I got to the school, I discovered something else familiar.
Yes, that's right. Mold.
Each group of students at the institute was led by one instructor, and assigned two rooms, side by side. One was for classroom work, with desks arranged in groups of four or five, and the other for morning and closing meeting, with chairs arranged in a large circle. We quickly discovered that our Morning Meeting room was poorly air conditioned and the air was heavy the smell of mold.
Our teacher told us that it had been the room designated for all our class work, but due to the poor air quality she had requested all the furniture to be switched so that the least amount of time would be spent there. She herself had experienced a bad reaction from being in the room during set-up. When we returned to this room at the end of the day it was clear that she was not the only person experiencing adverse effects from being there.
When we arrived for Day Two we were directed to the school media center. Our teacher had made the executive decision that she wouldn't subject us to an unhealthy learning environment. I was impressed.
After morning meeting we returned to our class work room, only to discover that the air conditioning in that room had failed. Even more exciting, the room was taking on condensation and the floors and surfaces were getting wet. We plowed ahead with the material we needed to cover, but by the morning break our instructor had arranged for us to be moved full-time to the media center.
The room was a bit warm, as they hadn't planned on using it, and we had to move our own furniture around from meeting time to class work time, but it was a healthier choice for us. Our teacher brought in the school's facility manager to tweak the AC, and also brought in a fan to cool us while that was being accomplished.
The moral of the story? Mold in schools isn't just a Howard County phenomenon. Looking at the styles of homes in the surrounding neighborhood is a clue that schools of a certain age are predisposed to it. Do a basic Google search. Mold in schools is a big ( dare I say, "growing"?) problem.
The takeaway from my experience is that our teacher (and, clearly, the leadership of the institute) saw this as a health hazard and an obstacle to learning. They refused to tolerate this situation as an acceptable environment for themselves or their students.
And that is how you handle mold, boys and girls. You don't pretend it doesn't exist. You don't keep sending students and teachers into the same toxic environment. You don't put your people at risk. Period.
I learned a lot last week. But I wouldn't have done all that learning if the Responsive Classroom staff, especially our teacher, Karla Bisco, hadn't been so committed to our health and safety. I'm highly allergic to mold. I have allergic asthma. When you read that Responsive Classroom says that:
...how students learn is as important as what they learn...
They mean it.
It's too bad that the Gallup Strengths Finder hasn't found the people who are responsive to teacher and student health and safety. I highly recommend Responsive Classroom training instead.