Aging infrastructure and buildings undermine student achievement across America, creating an unequal learning environment among K-12 facilities. Nearly one-fourth of the nation’s schools require extensive repair or replacement to at least one building. To help close the education equity gap for disadvantaged students who are more likely to attend educationally inadequate facilities, we must start by creating fair learning environments in public schools.
Defining Equity in the Learning Environment
Equity can be defined as the point where every student has access to an equal opportunity with the resources, environment, and support they need to be successful. Further, every child has what they need when they need it.
A critical component of ensuring an equitable classroom is providing students, teachers, administrators, and community members with a facility that fosters an optimal learning environment. Safe, climate-controlled, properly lit, and structurally sound buildings offer various benefits to students, educators, and the community as a whole.
Who Benefits From Equitable Learning Environments?
At their core, equitable learning environments benefit students. However, schools with spaces that cultivate equal learning opportunities can provide value to teachers, staff, and the entire community they serve.
Equitable learning environments can serve as a method of retaining educators. In one study, teachers who thought their schools were in poor condition were more likely to report they would leave that school or the profession entirely when compared to teachers who found their schools to be in good or excellent condition.
The impact schools provide as an accessible environment extends beyond the traditional school day meal programs, joint-use partnerships with organizations like the YMCA, and healthcare programs are just a few of the many community touchpoints that extend beyond classroom learning. When a district improves a facility while attending to equitability, the investment compounds for each connection the school has to its local community.
How to Create an Equitable Learning Environment
Creating a fair environment for learning involves designing facilities that meet the needs of students and communities and giving them the opportunity to access resources for optimal learning. The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building are a valuable guide for administrators pursuing equitable learning environments. An obsolete learning facility can impact student learning health and undermine their achievement.
Administrators and school boards can work toward equitable environments with the following nine steps:
1. Ensure Appropriate Ventilation
An equitable learning environment utilizes proper ventilation to control odor, chemicals, and carbon dioxide to ensure clean air for occupants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 1 in 5 schools has dangerous levels of radon — an odorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. behind smoking — in at least one classroom. Schools with poor ventilation may be unable to provide safe laboratory environments for learning.
To ensure students and staff are breathing fresh air, conduct routine HVAC maintenance. Minimizing air recirculation and bringing in fresh air from outside can help create a properly ventilated building.
2. Provide High-Quality Air Flow
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is important when considering an effective learning environment. The average public school building is more than 50 years old, which increases its risk of having dangerous materials like asbestos in insulation, lead in paint, and mold in structures that accumulate moisture. Studies have linked poor indoor air quality in school buildings to increased absenteeism. Perform an indoor air quality assessment of your school, especially on older facilities.
One factor to consider when creating an equitable learning environment is how you plan to address moisture accumulation. Moisture can damage electronics and wiring, corrode exposed metal, weaken the structural integrity of wood, and create opportunities for mold growth — which can all negatively impact students’ ability to breathe. High-traffic areas that accumulate moisture can present more opportunities for respiratory issues, which could lead to a decline in productivity.
5. Address Dust and Pests
Surfaces that accumulate dust and debris can negatively impact a school facility’s air quality and exacerbate allergies and health conditions like asthma. When these immune reactions flare up, students and staff may be unable to concentrate and even miss school.
School buildings that lack appropriate facility design can also invite pests into unwanted areas that can spread illness and disease. Pests can cause damage to essential areas such as cafeterias or gymnasiums — facilities that are critical for students who face inequitable access outside of school to healthy food or resources for exercise.
Regularly clean surfaces for particles that could increase the symptoms of asthma, and if pests are a problem, it’s best to consult with a professional.
6. Safety and Security
Schools have specific regulations for various unplanned events such as fires and tornadoes. It’s also necessary to ensure your school buildings are up to local, state, and federal code requirements to maintain compliance and create an equitable educational space. A well-designed facility will alleviate concerns so your students can concentrate on learning. With a stronger sense of safety and security around school property, students may feel more inclined to be engaged with academics and extracurricular activities.
7. Assess and Monitor Water Quality
In a 2017 survey of school districts that served 35 million students, the Government Accountability Office determined that 37% of schools found elevated lead levels in their water. Children exposed to increased lead levels can develop behavior and learning issues, delayed growth, hearing problems, hyperactivity, and anemia. Schools that seek to create equal opportunities for their students must attend to water quality issues resulting from older plumbing within their facilities or infrastructure that connects to the school.
8. Attend to Noise Levels
To provide an equitable learning environment, schools need to reduce stimuli that are incompatible with learning. Sounds like children talking in the next classroom over, people getting lunch in the cafeteria down the hall, and even ill-positioned vents of an HVAC system can distract a student and create adverse conditions for education. Depending on the size and design of your school, it may be necessary to implement acoustic dampening features to provide a learning environment with fewer distractions.
9. Provide Appropriate Lighting and Views
Studies have demonstrated that sunlight exposure throughout the day, views of outdoor natural environments, and well-lit rooms result in better educational outcomes for students. Achieving these sorts of sceneries can be challenging for some school districts depending upon their location — schools in urban settings may have fewer opportunities for open windows and natural sights. In this case, adding LED lighting and green plants to classrooms can make a big difference. Consider how proper facility planning can allow for features that address this aspect of an equitable learning environment.
How SitelogIQ’s Services Can Help Foster Equity in Learning Environments
Equitable learning environments ensure every student has equal opportunity with widespread benefits like student and community success, improved achievement, and increased attendance. SitelogIQ’s services are focused on fostering equitable outcomes in the classroom. Our expert facility planning solutions include:
Lighting technology and advanced controls
Adequate training for facility management
Improved indoor air quality
Pathogen mitigation and engineered infection protection
From the facility’s initial assessment to implementing a cost-effective design, SitelogIQ is dedicated to helping you reach your long-term educational and operational goals.
Our Commitment to Equitable Learning Environments
At SitelogIQ, we are committed to building equitable learning environments for all children. We know that through better indoor air quality, energy-efficient buildings, and optimal facility planning, we can help design a place for your students to learn at their best and your teachers to shine in their roles as educators.
Our team’s background in education administration allows us to approach facility design challenges with educational equity needs at the forefront of our design, implementation, and installation. Learn more about the K-12 services we offer today.