For most parents, the academic success of their children is crucial, because it is the very foundation that a child’s future is built upon. It is because of this, that a child’s ability to attend school on a regular basis is extremely important to their overall academic performance.

Many people are unaware of the importance the environment plays in a child’s ability to succeed academically. One factor that can substantially limit a child’s ability to thrive physically and academically is that of poor indoor air quality. It is important to understand the part that indoor air quality plays in our school systems and how to improve it.

There have been numerous case studies and physical evidence that have highlighted the affects of poor IAQ on the respiratory system, and how it contributes to the onset of asthma. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.” The evidence indicates that a child’s “overall performance decreases with illnesses or absences from school.” 

If a child is unable to attend classes or focus while at school, their grades will suffer because of this. Since many school professionals and parents are unaware of how detrimental poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can be to a child’s health and performance, they may attribute the child’s struggle to some other factor.

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One of the many things that can lead to poor IAQ is the existence of mold growth within a child’s home or school environment. Exposure to such a contaminant can lead to an array of adverse reactions, including the following: scratchy/sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, coughing/wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma flares, itchy eyes, sensitive skin and skin rash.  Some of the more detrimental reactions to being exposed to black mold include: severe headache, flu-like symptoms, permanent damage to the kidneys, immune system, the brain, and can even lead to death. The more lethal reactions typically affect those with comprised immune systems including the elderly and young children.  Some of the other factors that can contribute to poor IAQ include asbestos, lead, radon gas, carbon monoxide and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) gases emitted by specific building materials, such as paint or carpeting.

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The ventilation rates in most schools today are below what are considered to be appropriate for a given space. “Growing evidence suggests that improving outdoor air ventilation rates can improve student and teacher performance, increase test scores, and reduce airborne transmission of infection.” The results of one study indicated that on average those children who were in poorly ventilated classrooms, scored approximately 14 to 15 percent lower on standardized testing then those children in classrooms with better ventilation (EPA). 

Yet another study indicated that poor IAQ resulted in lower academic achievement. The study was conducted in 2004 by the University of Tulsa Indoor Air Program and the results indicated that of the 51 fifth grade classrooms tested, those with the best ventilation, had students performing better on standardized testing in Math. “As observed ventilation rates increased incrementally, test scores also increased.”  This study focused primarily on the existence of Carbon Dioxide, however, there may have been other contaminants present, including that of mold, causing the lowered scores in less-ventilated classrooms.

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The administration of many of the K-12 schools is under the impression that maintenance of the place in which children are educated in is not a key aspect of a productive learning environment. However, studies have shown that a school employing more maintenance staff with a consistent routine resulted in the improvement of “health, attendance and academic performance” for most children.  It is important for school officials to be aware of the impact that IAQ truly has on the success of the students attending, but also on that of the school as a whole. 

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“For example, absenteeism is often identified as a predictor of student performance, and a 1 percent improvement district-wide can translate into millions of dollars in lost school days.” Taking into consideration the vast number of schools that operate in the U.S. alone, the significance of such an improvement would be quite substantial.

It is clear that proper ventilation in classrooms is a key component to academic success for many children. However, if contaminants are already present, it is important to remove such hazards immediately. Prevention is best, but for many existing classrooms, steps must be taken prior to establishing a more routinely ventilated environment. Proper inspection, testing, and remediation of a classroom that may contain hazardous contents, is very important to the health of those who are present in the environment on a regular basis. In the case of mold, it is also important to find out if there is an existing leak or moisture intrusion in the classroom, since mold requires water to grow.  Fixing such issues promptly will result in healthier air content and thus proper ventilation can then  occur. Understanding the effects of indoor air quality on the health of children will give school officials and parents the opportunity to improve the conditions within our schools. The goal is to provide a healthy environment for the children that attend, as well as the teachers that are educating them.