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Higher Education

3 ways to bring more joy into your school

What brings you joy? It could be a favorite movie or song, family and friends, or travel. It could also be something you don’t even notice, like the paint color in your office, or art on the wall, or a round paperweight on your desk.

Studies have shown our surroundings can have a significant effect on our levels of joy. Learning environments are no different.

A Global Youth Survey showed that 61 percent of students are most concerned with improving their physical learning environment. And research suggests that the physical environment can significantly affect student achievement.

But there are some easy ways to start bringing joy into your schools. According to designer and writer Ingrid Fetell Lee, joy can be created through design by using color and shapes, and creating a feeling of abundance.

Here are three ways you can add joy into your school.

1. Add color 

In a 2004 study on the relationship between color and emotion, researchers at the University of Georgia found that different colors affect mood in different ways.

  • Green is associated with relaxation and calmness, followed by happiness, comfort, peace, hope and excitement.
  • Yellow is generally said to be lively and energetic, eliciting positive emotions associated with the sun and summertime.
  • Gray is associated with negative emotions, including sadness, depression, boredom, confusion, tiredness, loneliness, anger and fear.

Don’t be scared of adding a little color to your hallways and classrooms. You could do that by repainting the walls or in smaller ways, using colorful furniture, window dressing or rugs.

Or get students involved by having them work together to paint a mural in the hallway.

“One colorful mural can transform a barren hallway or entrance into a vibrant and joyful sight,” educator Steven Wolk wrote in a 2008 edition of Educational Leadership.

2. Round it out

Shapes can also affect our mood. Neuroscientists have found that the parts of the brain responsible for anxiety light up when people see angular objects, but not when they see circular objects.

In her TED Talk, Lee describes how, after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, architects incorporated curves into the design of the building to create a safe-feeling environment for the children who returned to the school. The slightly curved entrance was purposefully made in order to give students a welcoming feel as they approached.

Redesigning your entire entryway may not be feasible now, but you can incorporate curves into your school with pictures of balloons and ice cream cones on the wall, or by adding circular stools and furniture.

And don’t forget about your landscaping. Circle-shaped bushes, anyone?

3. Take it outside

We already know great landscaping goes a long way in making a good first impression, but planting flowers and keeping your lawns pretty can also affect student and faculty emotions in a positive way.

Lawns enhance the quality of life and contribute to social harmony and community pride, according to The Lawn Institute.

And don’t be scared to take the classroom outside. According to The Guardian, “Outdoor learning can make for happier, healthier, well-rounded students – particularly for those with special educational needs.”

Let’s make school environments more fun and vibrant – and joyful.


Want to learn more about how SSC works to create joyful learning environments? Get in touch with us today.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Robots are taking over campus (in a good way)

If you own a Roomba or regularly ask Alexa about the weather, you’ve seen how technology is changing the way we live. These advancements save us valuable time and energy and can help us be more productive.

They can be just as helpful for your school’s custodial and grounds management programs, making them more efficient and cost-effective.

The robot revolution is here, and, at SSC, we’re embracing it.

Here are a couple examples of how we’re using robotics and technology on our campuses.

Rain or shine, Chona gets to work

Meet Chona, the newest member of the SSC grounds team at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.

The Husqvarna Automower has been running since the beginning of the 2018 school year and has been doing a great job, according to Grounds Manager Matt Rich. Rain or shine, the automatic lawn mower starts automatically at 6 a.m., cleans an area that’s marked off by boundary wire and re-docks when it’s finished.

This Roomba-like lawnmower saves SSC about 100 hours of labor per year, which can be rededicated to other areas of campus.

“The mower is very quiet, which is nice because we have restrictions about mowing on campus while classes are in session,” Rich said. “It allows us to maintain areas near housing and buildings that we couldn’t normally do.”

Rich and his team also partnered with the school’s engineering department, and he will be teaching a class in November about the use of GPS technology in the workplace, bringing in the Automower to show students how it works.

“A lot of students and faculty love seeing Chona,” he said.

‘An impossible place to get to’

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences is housed in a recently renovated warehouse. Seven pod-like structures in the cavernous space hold classrooms and work rooms for students.

While walking on the second level and looking down at the pods, Unit Manager Gene Fritzinger noticed a problem: Over time those pod roofs collect dust and he didn’t have the equipment to clean them. Plus, the roofs don’t have railings, so he knew it wouldn’t be safe for humans to get up there.

“We just didn’t have access,” Fritzinger said. “We couldn’t reach them from the walkway. It just seemed like an impossible place to get to. … I cringe to think of someone walking on top of the roof. That wasn’t an option.”

So, he hired robots.

The iRobot vacuum cleans the roof each night, after everyone has gone home, and Fritzinger can pull up the video the next day to make sure it did a good job. It stays on each pod roof for a week before being brought down, cleaned and put on another roof. Fritzinger got the first robot about four months ago and recently bought a second one.

Not only is it safer, but it allows Fritzinger’s team to focus their time and energy on other parts of campus.

“When you’re in this business, dust makes you nervous,” he said. “Now the roofs always look great.”

(Top photo courtesy of Rachel Rodemann, University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.)


Want to learn more about how SSC uses technology to keep schools running smoothly? Get in touch with us today.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Does your district have a plan to keep schools running smoothly?

Maintenance. It’s not exciting nor flashy. It’s not new and shiny. It doesn’t get a lot of attention. But deferred maintenance can have dire consequences.

Case in point: U.S. school facilities received a D+ in the most recent Infrastructure Report Card, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017. The report also found that 24 percent of public school buildings are in poor or fair condition, and 4 in 10 schools don’t have a long-term facilities plan to address operations and maintenance.

Putting off repairs may seem like a good way to save money now, but it leads to years of neglect in school buildings and usually ends up costing way more money down the road. 

Industry reports have shown that $1 not spent on preventative maintenance equals $4 in repairs and replacements in the future.

“Facing tight budgets, school districts’ ability to fund maintenance has been constricted, contributing to the accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling and lighting systems,” the ASCE said in its report. “Deferred maintenance and decisions to choose less expensive temporary fixes are ultimately costing school districts in the long term.”

How did we get here?

Maintenance may not be exciting, but innovation is. And, during the 20th century, innovation became a “dominant ideology of our era, embraced by Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the Washington, D.C., political elite,” wrote SUNY Polytechnic Institute College of Arts & Sciences Dean Andrew Russell and assistant professor of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology Lee Vinsel in their essay “Hail the maintainers,” published in Aeon.

Sure, innovation is important and has led to countless new technologies and breakthroughs, but what happens after innovation is just as important.

“Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labor that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations,” Russell and Vinsel wrote.

The popular podcast Freakonomics also dove into this subject in its episode, “In Praise of Maintenance.”

“People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained,” said former Harvard University president and former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers. “It leads to a constant trap where we underinvest in old things, then old things disappoint us, then we feel a need for new things, then – to satisfy that need for new things – we underinvest more in old things, and the cycle goes on.”

So how do we fix it?

Two words: Preventive maintenance.

A successful preventive maintenance program ensures that a school continues to run smoothly. It involves cataloging and keeping track of each piece of equipment (using software such as Maintenance Connection) to make sure all systems are getting the routine service that will keep them functioning well.

And it pays off. Proper preventive maintenance will:

  • Extend the life expectancy of equipment, delaying the need for costly replacements.
  • Minimize untimely (and often expensive) system failures.
  • Enable the facilities department to plan, purchase materials and schedule workloads efficiently, which means saving time, money and labor.

The Infrastructure Report Card pointed specifically at preventive maintenance as a solution for the problems facing school buildings today: “Continue to encourage school districts to adopt regular, comprehensive major maintenance, renewal and construction programs, and implement preventative maintenance programs to extend the life of school facilities.”

What’s your district’s plan to keep schools running smoothly?


Want to learn more about how SSC’s Plant Operations & Maintenance services can help your school save money and run smoothly? Click here or get in touch with us here.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

3 simple ways to make your campus stand out

Think back to your first college visit, or the first time you interviewed for a job at a school. What was your first impression?

Did the school feel welcoming and bright, or a little shabby and disorganized?

Whatever your reaction – positive or negative – it likely hinged on the school’s grounds.

“People remember the first and last thing they see when they’re visiting any kind of campus,” said SSC Regional Vice President of Grounds George Bernardon.

Whether you’re fighting to attract and retain students or hoping to lure top teachers, grounds management goes a long way in how people perceive your school. We asked Bernardon to share three ways his team works to help schools make the right first impression.

1. Curb appeal matters

If you’ve ever been house hunting, you know the importance of curb appeal. People form their first impressions of a home long before they ever step inside.

You wouldn’t list your house without mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and making the outside look nice and tidy, right? You should treat your school the same way – because it’s always on the market.

Prospective students, faculty and staff could be visiting your school for the first time any time of year, and they’re going to notice if the curb appeal is lacking. Most students decide if a college will stay on their list after just 10 minutes of being on campus, and 62 percent “reported basing their college decision on buildings and landscape,” according to a Washington State University survey.

With school choice becoming more widespread, it’s the appearance of a campus can have a large impact on a family’s decision.

“When parents go to enroll their child into school and the grounds look shabby, already they’ve formulated in their mind an opinion of how that school is run,” Bernardon said. “Immediately they start thinking, what is going on with this institution? Is the infrastructure crumbling around it? Just based on the curb appeal.”

Treat the outside of your school with the same pride you approach what goes on inside, and people will notice.

2. Little changes make a huge difference

Bernardon’s team features a mix of certified professionals in every aspect of grounds, athletic field and playground management. They do research, test the soil and study the irrigation system in order to create a custom plan that ensures a school’s landscape will be managed with sound horticultural and agronomic practices.

But when Bernardon first starts working with a school he focuses on doing the little things that make a huge – and immediate – difference (if you work in your yard at home, this list probably sounds familiar):

  • Weed plant beds
  • Add mulch
  • Start a consistent mow, edge and trim schedule for the grass

It sounds simple, but it makes a huge difference, especially when those little things are done in high-traffic areas like playgrounds, the parent pick-up line and the front entrance.

“If you do that, the campus appears to be manicured,” Bernardon said. “That elevates the appearance of the facility tenfold.”

After that, Bernardon and his team can dig deep and fix the big problems to put the grounds over the top.

3. Don’t forget the athletic fields

Think about all of the people filing into the stands for a Friday night football game or a Tuesday afternoon softball game. Their impression of your school has a lot to do with how green, lush and perfectly manicured those fields look.

And it’s not just your own students and parents you’re trying to impress, but also those from the visiting teams. For colleges, beautiful fields can help recruit athletes.

Visitors will form their first impressions based on the areas they visit the most. So even if that baseball field is tucked way back in the rear part of campus, a patchy outfield could color how people see the school.

“All schools now are fighting for the same students,” Bernardon said.

Give your school an edge by making the right first impression.


Want to learn more about how SSC’s Grounds Management program can transform the curb appeal of your school? Click here or get in touch with us here.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Tarleton State breaks ground on new Fort Worth campus

Tarleton State University broke ground on its new campus in Fort Worth, Texas, and SSC was there.

Regional Director of Operations Aaron Wand, Regional Vice President John Lane and President Seth Ferriell were on hand to support our expanding partnership with Tarleton State.

Tarleton State groundbreaking

The new campus, on 80 donated acres, will initially add an expected 2,500 students with additional growth opportunities already planned through 2026.

Read more on Tarleton State’s website here.


SSC is 100 percent dedicated to support services for education. This means we’re well-versed in the challenges facing education today, and – most importantly – we know how to overcome them. Want to learn more? Get in touch with us.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

Outsourcing helps schools save money without cutting jobs

Outsourcing. When you see that word, you probably think about jobs being shipped overseas, or longtime employees being cut to hire younger – and cheaper – workers.

But outsourcing doesn’t have to be a dirty word, and it can actually help schools and districts save money without laying off existing staff.

By bringing in a support services firm like SSC, schools can:

  • Keep the current, knowledgeable staff already in-house
  • Increase productivity
  • Stop worrying about workers’ compensation, skyrocketing fringe costs, and free up human resources to focus on other responsibilities
  • Save money – 15-20 percent – which can then go to other critical needs, like arts programs and teacher pay
  • Most importantly, improve the look of your schools and make your district more competitive in recruitment and retention

How?

We have developed a detailed transition plan honed through the successful onboarding of hundreds of thousands of associates over many years. This experience has taught us that honest, open, continuous communication is the key to taking employees from a place of fear and resistance to embracing the positive new reality our solutions bring and delivering a new, higher level of performance.

SSC leverages its expertise and resources to achieve significantly higher productivity levels using technology, training and management resources that are beyond the reach of in-house operations.

Eighty percent of a support service’s department budget is labor. Higher productivity means fewer workers – and a lower cost – but an increased quality in facilities management.

But wait, you’re thinking, you said we could save money without cutting a bunch of jobs.

You’re right. That’s where attrition comes in.

Gradual employee transition happens naturally, at a rate around 10 percent annually. As worker productivity increases, vacant positions can be eliminated while maintaining a high standard of work. Staffing levels go down without forcing employees out of their jobs and without breaking promises with the school community.

In this structure, cost-savings are attained in a way that’s sustainable and respectful of existing employees, and that maintains good morale and a spirit of teamwork.

When Lake Travis Independent School District in Texas transitioned custodial services to SSC in 2015, 92 percent of staff members also decided to make the transition, and the district was able to save 18 percent of its prior year’s custodial budget.

“The positive feedback has been overwhelming,” said Johnny W. Hill, assistant superintendent for business, financial and auxiliary services at Lake Travis ISD.

“In my opinion, the three main factors that set SSC apart from the rest of the crowd (are) their level of commitment to employees during the transition period, their commitment to providing the highest level of services to the educational entity and, finally, their commitment to providing a cost-effective solution to their clients.”


Want to learn more? Get in touch with us to see if outsourcing support services makes sense for your facilities.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.

How SSC helped Texas A&M weather Hurricane Harvey

In late summer 2017, the areas surrounding Texas A&M saw considerable winds and rain from Hurricane Harvey. The weather event caused massive devastation, leaving in its path leveled homes, businesses, schools, nursing homes, churches and stores, and injuring or killing many. In situations such as this, our SSC team knows it is vital to be prepared, responsive and proactive to ensure the safety of everyone in our communities and get our clients up and running again as soon as possible.

Rather than waiting to see what Harvey would leave behind, our team performed a significant amount of pre-storm work. The team laid out sandbags in problematic areas and prepared the campus for the predicted rainfall. Sump pumps were checked to ensure each was in good working order.

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SSC sent six students to build a clean water well in El Salvador

In August, SSC sent six students to El Salvador with Living Water International, an organization that builds wells across the globe for communities in need of clean water.

Students applied for a scholarship to embark on this journey. Aimee Bourey and Caroline Matlock of Texas A&M College Station, Christine Owojori and Russell Thomas of Prairie View A&M, and Lisseth Diaz and Cesar Villarreal of TAMIU in Laredo made the trip this summer. Sarah Boreen from SSC at TAMU College Station and Ida Noack of Weathermatic joined the students.

SSC funded the trip and Weathermatic sponsored the well. SSC has worked extensively with Weathermatic to make irrigation systems on the TAMU campuses more sustainable. The idea behind the scholarships was to take the savings and bring water to a community in need.

The team spent a week in Puente Viejo in La Paz, El Salvador, a village with a population of 198 living in 36 houses. The students built a well that reached depths of 75 meters, or about 246 feet.

Living Water returned to Puente Viejo soon after the team left to perform a water test. The water tested clean and is ready for the community members to use.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the SSC Monthly newsletter. Get news about the latest trends in education and support services, plus tips from our knowledgeable and experienced staff about how to make your facilities run smoothly — and save money.