The month of August finds most teachers already in their classrooms getting ready for that all important first day of school. We all know that germs in school are nothing new. Unfortunately, now, more than ever, a healthy classroom is important. From the first fall sniffles to full-blown cold and flu season, teachers and students are continually exposed to bacteria and viruses. Fortunately there are safe and non-toxic actions that can be employed to set up a healthy classroom from the first day of school thus reducing the chances of getting sick.
As a former private piano teacher of over twenty years, I know, from experience, the importance of promoting a healthy learning environment. I’m often asked if going the extra mile to try to promote wellness is worth it and my answer is always “absolutely!”
Even a Healthy Classroom May Not be as Clean as You Think
- The average school desk has more than 20,000 germs on it.
- Colds result in 189 million school days lost each year.
- When students use sanitizer in a school setting, they are 33% less likely to be absent due to illness.
- Surfaces teachers touch have 10x more bacteria per square inch than other professions.
- 96% of school nurses agree that when a child comes to school sick, other children tend to catch his or her virus.
- Studies have shown that the dirtiest thing in any classroom is the community pencil sharpener, says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson. Send children with a personal pencil sharpener or mechanical pencils.
- Research done at the University of Arizona found that desk surfaces, computer keyboards and computer mice ranked high in levels of five bacteria: E.coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Streptococcus, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus.
- The average American child has six to 10 colds a year. In fact, children’s colds cause more doctor visits and missed school days than any other illness.
- A 2005 study of germs in schools found that classroom water fountain spigots and plastic cafeteria trays were the germiest spots in school. The spigot had 2,700,000 and the tray 33,800 bacteria per square inch, compared with 3,200 on the restroom toilet seat. This is most likely because toilet seats get cleaned regularly, while trays and water fountains may not be.
11 Wellness Strategies for Your Healthy Classroom
Below are some ways to implement a healthy classroom for your students and for you.
1. Every day before class: Wipe door handles and frames, walls, counters, computer keyboards including mouse and desktops that are touched by hundreds of hands every day with an effective non-toxic sanitizer and a micro fiber towel. This will limit the spread of viruses and bacteria in your healthy classroom. If experiencing a flu outbreak, try to do this at least two times daily.
2. Make sure that students wash their hands (soap and warm water is fine) before and after breakfast, snacks, lunch and after each bathroom visit. Of course, this is more difficult to monitor with older students, but friendly reminders will be helpful.
3. Set up a sanitation station in your healthy classroom that includes: liquid pump non-antibacterial soap, non-toxic hand sanitizer*, tissue and paper towels to dry hands and waste basket. Instruct students that they must wash, dry and sanitize (in that order) their hands before leaving the station.
4. For prevention, talk to students about the importance of coughing into their bended arm/sleeve and washing their hands to contain the spread of germs. Remind them to avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose with their fingers/hands. Remind them often during cold and flu season. During the first few weeks of school, go over your “wellness strategies” every day.
5. If possible and funds permit, invest in an air purifier for your healthy classroom. Air purifiers can remove 99.97 percent of the pollen, dust, animal dander, and even bacteria from the air. There are very good ones that will last for more than several years for an investment of less than $100.00.
6. If school policies allow, purchase an essential oil diffuser and diffuse lemongrass for ten minutes several times daily.
7. Cut down on clutter as well as items that harbor pathogens and dust mites. Examples would be rugs, sofas, bean bag chairs.
8. Always be on the lookout for students as well as teachers with symptoms of illness such as flu. They should be sent home immediately. No teacher or student should arrive obviously ill.
9. Encourage children to use their own crayons, pencils, rulers, etc. and not borrow from or lend to other students.
10. Proper ventilation is also important. If possible, open windows and doors to let fresh air in and circulate the air whenever possible.
11. Remind all students not to share. Beyond sticking to their own food, school supplies and drinks, older students should avoid sharing lipstick or lip balm. They should also use their own face make-up, razors, creams, and lotions to avoid skin infections, including MRSA and herpes. Items such as ear buds, locker-room towels, sports jerseys and helmets, and baseball gloves should also be off-limits for sharing.
*Studies have reported that triclosan and triclocarban (often included in hand sanitizers) may add to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, disrupt development of the brain and reproductive system and accumulate in plants and animals. Parabens, identified as estrogen mimics, have been linked to reproductive problems in lab animals, as well as allergies and skin irritation. In a new study half of newborns in a Brooklyn-based study were exposed in the womb to triclosan and one-fourth were exposed to triclocarban.