When it’s time to assess the standard of a school, there is one big area that parents have previously overlooked - health. Perhaps you have taken scrupulous care of health concerns at home, but most likely your child spends more time at school than anywhere else. Especially in Shanghai, where the air pollution can influence outdoor activities in the winter season, where almost every international school has their own catering facility, where a multicultural community can further complicate peer pressure and school bullying, the importance of wellness at school is self-evident. And the more schools work on promoting and implementing a healthy environment, the better a child can concentrate on their academic performance and other areas.
To give our parent readers a comprehensive picture of health at school, we speak with Keith Godbout, director of Operations at Concordia International School Shanghai.
What are the significant benefits of having clean air in schools?
We believe that students should have a safe and healthy environment to learn. If students are safe and healthy, they are more focused on their studies and learning. Exposure to air pollution can cause short-term and long-term health effects. Children are at an increased risk of these health effects because they tend to be more physically active. Their lungs are still growing, and they are more likely to have asthma or acute respiratory illnesses which can be aggravated when pollution levels are high.
Can you talk us through the air purifying system in Concordia and what the driving force behind the installation was?
In Concordia, we monitor particle pollution (specifically PM2.5) daily because they pose the greatest health risk to our students. PM2.5 are fine particulates in the air, which can get deep into the lungs causing respiratory problems and may even enter the blood stream.
With this in mind, we have PM2.5 filtration systems strategically placed throughout the entire campus to filter the indoor air and keep the air quality as healthy as possible. Most recently, during the summer of 2016, we added vestibules on the ground floor, and enclosed the second-floor pedestrian bridges to manage the number of locations where outside air enters the buildings. This substantial investment helps manage the air quality in large gathering spaces such as gyms and common areas. During the summer of 2017, Concordia updated the fresh outdoor air system to include larger fans and better filtration. This allows the fans to pull in more oxygen from outside to keep the CO2 levels low in classrooms. It also makes sure that the air coming inside is filtered so new contaminants are not introduced inside the buildings.
What was the most noticeable outcome after the installation?
The school’s internal air quality levels are monitored using on-campus equipment. The school’s air filtering system maintains air quality well below the US Environmental Protection Agency acceptable limits in regard to both PM2.5 and other pollutants. This is managed through an automated system that is activated whenever the AQI exceeds 100. We did see a significant decrease in the measured PM2.5 concentration inside the school.
How do you ensure students still undertake daily activities and exercise during pollution season?
We have great indoor spaces to keep the kids moving and healthy if outdoor play is limited. There are two large gymnasiums for High School and Middle School (MS), two smaller gymnasiums for Elementary School (ES) and Preschool and a large basement fitness center which has new spinning bikes, fitness equipment, table tennis and a dance studio. Additionally, AQI levels will be checked before 2pm by the Director of Athletics to determine how athletic practice will be held. If the AQI is between 150 and 200, school ES instructors and MS coaches will be notified to avoid prolonged or heavy exercises during outdoor events.
Apart from general pollution problems, what other factors can affect the air quality in schools?
Other factors that affect air quality can be cleaning practices and personal habits of leaving the doors and windows open. Concordia sends out reminders to keep the doors and windows closed on days when we have a high AQI outside. We also specify that all classrooms need to be vacuumed and cleaned daily with special vacuums that have filters.
Apart from an artificial air purifying system, should schools use more greenery and indoor plants to improve the air quality?
The plants on campus probably provide a small amount of filtration and they also convert CO2 into oxygen, so there are some health benefits to having plants indoors. Plants also provide a greener environment, which creates a pleasant atmosphere for students and staff.
Keith Godbout is the director of Operations at Concordia International School Shanghai. He came to Concordia by way of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he held positions as Director of Facilities and Director of Risk Management. Before moving internationally, Keith worked as an engineer at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga, TN.