Daylight, Gardens, Bouncy Chairs: The Role of Wellness in Healthy School Design

December 14, 2009

by Tara Kennon, HSC communications manager

School-daylight

Here at HSC,
we love it when wellness and sustainability meet – especially when the topics
merge in discussions of an issue as exciting and promising as green schools. We’ve
long advocated for further development of “healthy, high
performing
” schools – a term that covers both a school’s impact on the
environment (often its energy efficiency) and its impact on student health and
learning. Attributes such as well-designed ventilation system can make a school
healthy and high-performing. So can daylighting or good acoustics.

Lately,
we’ve started to have more conversations with our partners about how to
integrate wellness into the ways we all think and talk about green
schools.  How does a kitchen outfitted
with the equipment to prepare healthy meals fit into our definition of a
healthy school? What about adequate space for children to be physically active?

And perhaps
most important: how does a school building that supports wellness shape student
learning?

This
question is at the heart of a new book (and related online community), The Third Teacher, which discusses the ways that the environment – in this case the
built environment, the school facility – has a dramatic impact on student
learning.

HSC board
member Vince Iturralde, principal of Tarkington School of Excellence, a public
elementary school on Chicago’s southwest side and the first LEED-certified
green school in the city, eloquently explains the  benefits of a school building that supports learning
and wellness in a Chicago
Public Radio story
exploring the subject:

Iturralde
says one of the unique elements, is how Tarkington shares land and space with
the park district.

 

That’s
meant a larger gym, and a field where kids can play during recess. The Park
District also offers pre-school and after-school programs that Tarkington kids
attend.

 

ITURRALDE:
Students need to be active. They keep the kids constantly busy. And when the
kids are constantly busy, they stay out of trouble. And so violence goes down,
crime goes down, and our students’ success rate goes up.

 

Principal
Iturralde says teachers use the green features to highlight the school’s
environmental focus. And the teachers voted to extend their day so the kids
could have recess and run all over that grassy field.

 

ITURRALDE:
It was the first LEED certified school in the city of Chicago, which had huge
advantages that were unforeseen. It was amazing how many different things
evolved from the building itself.

 

Like
using the setting for hands-on lessons in the gardens, the field or even some
unusual places.

The story
also takes listeners to a school in nearby Barrington, where students spend
their days in desks designed to allow movement throughout the day:

In
this classroom in District 220 in Barrington, about half the class is literally
bouncing up and down. One kid is sitting on a big gym ball modified to look
like a chair. Other fourth-graders are in chairs with inflatable cushions on
them. There’s a tall desk with a swing bar that a boy is kicking against over
and over again.

You’d think it would be chaos.

 

Connie
Simon says it’s just the opposite. Simon is an assistant superintendent here.
 
SIMON: It just is not a natural thing to make kids sit for six hours a day.
This provides opportunities for children to be able to move in a natural way
that learning still continues.

Simon
points to students like Jaycee Carden who are moving in place, but still
focused on their work.

 

JAYCEE: 
I usually do better in the chair, like I can think quicker when I’m in this
chair because I’m also getting a lot of energy out at the same time, so it
helps me think a little more.

The Third
Teacher spotlights ideas
such as these – daylight, gardens, bouncy chairs – that are considered
innovative for school design although they are often based on simple
observations (“a lot of kids fidget”) as much as on new technologies. The ideas
range from “#20: Make Peace with Fidgeting” to suggestions that teachers talk with students about how green technology
works, using it as a learning tool.

Listen to
the full story at the Chicago
Public Radio website
or read more of the ideas in The Third Teacher at www.thethirdteacher.com.