How School Nurses Can Lead The Way for Green Clean Schools

January 27, 2014

School nurses can make a big difference for environmental health in schools.

For school nurses, safeguarding students’ health means paying attention to environmental health, too. That includes indoor air quality, asthma management, hand-washing and much more.

“Environmental health is a very important aspect of school health that tends to get overlooked,” says Linda Mendonca, a school nurse in Rhode Island and board member on the Rhode Island Lung Association Leadership Board. “As a school nurse, I may be the only one in the school setting with a health background ensuring students are healthy and ready to learn. Green cleaning is one way to address the environmental issues in the school setting and school nurses can be the leader within the school community to make that happen.”

Green cleaning is a major way to improve environmental health. Schools implement green cleaning for a variety of reasons — it increases the lifespan of facilities, preserves the environment and ultimately saves the school money. But the highest priority in implementing a school green cleaning program is cleaning for health — eliminating harmful chemicals, managing VOCs and reducing harmful bacteria. It all adds up to healthier students, and healthier staff, too.

That’s why it is so important for school health professionals to take a leadership role on green cleaning. Many decisions are being made about product purchasing, the cleaning process, equipment and more. School nurses can speak to the health-related consequences of each decision and champion important preventive measures to protect student and staff health.

School nursing and green cleaning are a natural fit, and there are a number of tools and partnerships out there to support this connection. Last year, Healthy Schools Campaign held a webinar with school nurses and environmental experts to discuss the benefits of green cleaning and the role school health professionals in promoting this important preventive measure. HSC also offers the Quick + Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, information on promoting diligent handwashing and resources on improving indoor air quality in schools.

We recommend school nurses start learning about green cleaning by speaking with facilities managers, custodial staff and school administrators to find out if the school has a green cleaning program. If so, find out what the green cleaning policy is and how to best support it. School nurses should also find out if the school has an indoor air quality team and if they do regular school walkthroughs.

School nurses whose schools do not have a green cleaning program should find out why, and educate peers and their school on the importance of green cleaning. Together, all members of the school community can do their part to ensure students and staff have a safe, healthy place to learn and work.

As Mendonca explains, “cleaning up the environment gets us back to the basics in terms of nursing.”

At HSC, we love to see school nurses get public recognition for all that they do, including supporting environmental health. Because of this, on February 5, 2014 we will be launching our first annual School Nurse Leadership Award. For more information to to receive the application when it’s launched, sign up here: healthyschoolscampaign.org/leadership-award.