In the green schools movement, we talk a lot about creating healthy learning environments, spaces that are water and energy efficient; have superior indoor air quality; and produce little to no waste. We also talk a lot about how we can use these spaces as learning tools to teach students 21st century skills and how to be better environmental and community stewards. However, in our attempts to hold up sustainable school environments as models of the future, we often neglect to consider the third pillar of a green, healthy, and sustainable school: the health and well-being of students and staff.
The physical design of a school building has everything to do with the health of the people who inhabit its walls. Healthy air quality practices, ample amounts of daylighting, and active design elements (e.g., indoor playgrounds, flexible seating) all contribute to learning environments that support a student’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive health. Then there is the curricular side: nutrition education, physical literacy and activity, and farm to school programming, to name but a few. But there is another side to health and well-being that bears addressing in the K-12 classroom; that is, the social-emotional health of the child.
Students today are under an incredible amount of stress. High stakes testing, college applications, advanced placement courses, and the constant pressure to succeed all take a toll. This does not include the varied stresses students may face in their home environments, such as poverty, hunger, violence, and domestic abuse. A student who is not healthy in mind as well as body cannot be expected to be present and ready to learn in a classroom. We need to do a better job of understanding and addressing students’ needs in a holistic manner to ensure they have the tools and skills needed to live healthy, productive lives, now and into the future.
This issue of GreenNotes features a selection of articles that touch on the components of health and well-being as defined by Green Schools National Network’s GreenPrint for Becoming a Green, Healthy, and Sustainable School. The importance of integrating movement in K-12 education is addressed in a story by VMDO Architects while the National Association of Physical Literacy shares how their training and curriculum enables teachers and coaches to integrate physical activity throughout the school day. Healthy food is covered with articles from Friends of the Earth and Forward Food on the benefits and successes of adopting plant-based meals, as well as a story by a high school student about the nonprofit she founded that is bringing nutrition education and yoga instruction to students in a fun, yet educational, way. New Roots Charter School shares how they have successfully integrated mindfulness practices into their wellness programming, and the Green Building Alliance describes two emerging frameworks that are putting students at the center of a school and how that shift is impacting how we think about student health and well-being.
It is a simple equation: healthy students = successful students. As green schools advocates we must invest in supporting the whole child: their minds, bodies, and spirits. It is fitting then that health and well-being is the second pillar of a green, healthy, and sustainable school. It is truly the glue that holds the three pillars of a green school together.