How dirty classrooms could be negatively affecting your students and teachers

Students in a classroom

Having a dark, dirty and poorly ventilated school does more than make for a bad first impression for potential students and parents. It could also drastically affect student achievement and teacher morale.

“Students and teachers need clean, roomy, well-ventilated and well-lit spaces for teaching and learning,” Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, told The Atlantic in an article titled “Reimagining the Modern Classroom.”

And studies back this up.

“With respect to students, school facilities affect health, behavior, engagement, learning and growth in achievement,” the Penn State Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis found. “Thus, researchers generally conclude that without adequate facilities and resources, it is extremely difficult to serve large numbers of children with complex needs.”

But 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.

With the holidays around the corner, this is a good time to create a cleaning plan for when students aren’t in the classrooms.

Here are three ways poor learning environments could be negatively affecting your students:

1. Increased absenteeism and sickness

Ever heard of “sick building syndrome”? It’s real, and can affect your school attendance.

Poor air quality can have a huge impact on absenteeism, especially on students with asthma. And poor ventilation allows “bacteria, viruses and allergens that contribute to childhood disease” to circulate, according to the Penn State paper.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs “noted an increase of 50 percent to 370 percent in the incidence of respiratory illness in spaces with low ventilation rates, as are commonly found in schools, compared to spaces meeting industry-accepted standards,” according to the 2016 State of Our Schools report from the 21st Century School Fund.

SSC uses cleaners that have been shown to help decrease absenteeism rates significantly. Clean dirty areas, improve ventilation in all classrooms by leaving windows and doors opened when possible, and clear out any holes, leaks or mold that can be contaminating the air.

2. Reduced morale and productivity

Lighting plays a major role in both morale and productivity.

“Research has shown that not only does classroom lighting boost the morale of teachers and students, (but) appropriate amounts of natural lighting also reduces off-task behavior and improves test scores,” according to a Penn State paper.

Poor learning environments affect teachers just as much as students.

Nineteen percent of teachers who left the profession cited “dissatisfaction with working conditions,” according to a Learning Policy Institute study. And teacher turnover is costly. It hurts student achievement and leads to shortages, and it can cost up to $21,000 to replace a new teacher in an urban school district, according to Education Week.

3. Lower test scores

In addition to productivity, poor lighting could directly affect test scores.

A study in California found that students scored as much as 25 percent higher on standardized tests in classrooms with more natural light. In an earlier study, students with “the most exposure to natural daylight progressed 20 percent faster in math and 26 percent faster in reading than students who were taught in environments with the least amount of natural light.”

Having an efficient and properly designed custodial and preventive maintenance program makes it possible to create and maintain a clean, comfortable, pleasing atmosphere conducive to learning.

Get your school clean and healthy during winter break so students can have a better learning experience when they come back from the holidays. Not only does it look nicer, but it can have a measurable positive effect on your students and teachers.

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.

SSC goes green – and quiet – with new electric mowers

Mean Green electric mower

SSC has never been content with merely providing the services contracted – we want to find innovative ways to take the next step.

Working daily in environments where curiosity and innovation bloom – kindergarten classrooms to sprawling university campuses – inspires and motivates us. These students are leading the way to a better tomorrow, and we want to help them thrive.

Over the years, we have consciously changed practices to reduce waste and chemicals in the environments we all share. We have switched to renewable and sustainable products like bamboo, used goats to maintain fire barriers in some areas, and helped our campuses retrofit their facilities to reduce water waste and maximize energy efficiency. 

Now we are excited to announce the next step in this (r)evolution.

It was summer break for Charleston County Schools, administrators were in their offices preparing for the arrival of students in the coming weeks. The campus was silent. 

Then, there came the grounds crew.

Everyone inwardly groans as they prepare for the earsplitting noise that comes from the necessary task of keeping their beautiful campus in top shape, but the sound never comes.

Maybe they aren’t mowing today. Did the schedule change?  

Peeking out of his window, the principal expects to see someone working on the flowerbeds, but instead he sees a mower with a 48-inch deck cutting the lawn right outside his window – and it’s quiet.

More and more sites are getting to experience the joy of silence as SSC has started transitioning our fleet of mowers from gas to electric through our new partnership with Mean Green. Is your campus next?

Over the next five years, we will be adding more than 200 Mean Green electric mowers to our fleet as we transition out their gas counterparts. Mean Green Mowers is the leading commercial e-mower manufacturer headquartered in Ross, Ohio, and owned by father and son co-founders Joe and Matt Conrad.

For every mower a campus has, there are, on average, six pieces of handheld equipment our grounds crew uses as well, such as trimmers, blowers, weedeaters and edgers. We are moving those to electric alternatives, as well.

We were happy with our plans, but our custodial and maintenance departments wanted to contribute, so golf carts and club cars are also moving to electric. 

In total, these changes will reduce our carbon footprint by more than 53 million pounds over the next five years. That’s the equivalent of building 51 wind turbines or planting 4 million trees and letting them grow for 10 years. This major step is sure to be one of many as our future leaders continue to inspire us. 

Say hello to the new, quiet member of your staff and goodbye to the air and noise pollution.

What will SSC do next … robots? Maybe … actually, yeah, probably. Watch out for one being used on your campus soon.

How to keep the flu from spreading in your school

Young boy at school sneezing into his arm

Last year’s flu season was the longest-lasting in a decade, with flu activity sticking around for 21 straight weeks. That’s why taking measures to prevent the virus from spreading through your school this year is more critical than ever.

Between 5% and 20% of people in the United States get the flu each fall and winter, according to the National Institutes of Health. When students and teachers are forced to stay home with the flu, those missed school days can have a huge effect on student outcomes – and the budget.

Last flu season, the virus began to ramp up in November and peaked in February, which means now is the time to make sure your school is ready.

Here are five steps SSC takes to keep school environments clean and flu-free:

Students in a classroom

1. Be prepared.

SSC has a special cleaning checklist just for cold and flu cold season, which puts an emphasis on cleaning high-touch areas like chairs, desks, door handles, soap dispensers, toilet seats, water fountains and light switches.

By using the Clorox Total 360 electrostatic spray system, which has been shown to decrease absenteeism rates significantly during the germiest seasons, SSC maintains a safe environment for students, staff and parents.

Prepare in advance, make a checklist and focus on what areas your students touch the most. That will help you get everything in place to keep the virus from spreading.

2. Encourage students and teachers to stay home when sick.

Some people may try to be a hero and come to school sick, but it’s important for anyone who gets the flu to stay home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever to avoid spreading it to other students or teachers.

You could also encourage students, teachers and staff to get the flu shot by offering tips on when and where to get it or even offering vaccinations on campus for staff.

3. Healthy habits = less contamination.

Most experts believe the flu is primarily spread by droplets made when infected people cough and sneeze.

Teach students and staff to cover their mouths with a tissue or bent arm to prevent those droplets from spreading.

4. Emphasize the importance of hand-washing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, using a paper towel to dry hands and using that same towel to turn off the faucet.

Post informative signs in your bathrooms and consider incorporating hand-washing breaks into student and staff schedules.

5. Do more than just clean – especially those drinking fountains.

Sometimes a general cleaning spray won’t cut it. SSC often uses a disinfectant that kills 99.9% of germs, and also has policies to prevent cross-contamination.

Did you know? The germiest places in schools aren’t in the bathroom, like most people think, but water fountains, according to Dr. Harley Rotbart, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Colorado. It’s the perfect spot for germ spread since kids put their mouths on the stream of water or on the fountain itself.

[Related: The germiest places in schools.]

Educate your kids to run the water a little first and then drink, or encourage students and teachers to bring their own water bottle – and not share.

We can help your school stay flu-free and germ-free. Reach out to learn more about our services and how you can keep your learning environment clean – and healthy – with SSC as your partner.

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 to make sure your school is ready for summer break

Summer break is here. Now what?

Summer is just around the corner, and your students are probably already dreaming of vacations and afternoons spent by the pool.

The next few months may be a break for students, but things are really starting to heat up for your facilities staff.

Summer break is a crucial time for your custodial, maintenance and grounds management programs. It’s a chance to accomplish important tasks – like painting, deep cleaning and major repairs – that can’t be done during the school year when the halls are filled with students, teachers and other staff.

Want to make sure your school is ready for summer break? Here are three tips.

Continue reading “How to make sure your school is ready for summer break”

Take a green approach to school cleaning

Given to Emily by ssc in May 2014

Cleaning products are necessary to keep your school free of germs and dirt. But using the wrong products could have a negative effect on the environment and the health of your students, teachers and staff.

Buildings where green cleaning products are used experience lower costs and reduced chemical use. These products are safer and deliver high-quality results with minimal environmental impact.

Going green in your school can also educate workers and students alike so that environmentally conscious decisions will continue beyond the campus and contribute to a cleaner, healthier world for everyone.

Here are a few tips for making sure the products used in your school are safe for students, staff and the environment:

1. Look at the label

If you see a Safer Choice, Green Seal or EcoLogo label on a cleaning product, you can feel better about using it in classrooms and schools. Products with these labels have been reviewed by reputable third parties and are considered effective and safer for the environment and human health.

2. Rethink paper and liners

Massive amounts of towel and tissue waste end up in landfills, and their production and processing have a huge environmental impact. To reduce it, consider following the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for bathroom tissue (20%-60% postconsumer fiber) and paper towels (40%-60% postconsumer fiber).

Also, look for can liners containing recycled and postconsumer content. These small steps can go a long way in lessening the environmental strain of these products.

3. Choose the right equipment

In addition to the cleaners you use, pay close attention to the equipment used in the school.

Microfiber dusters not only clean more effectively than other products by capturing dust rather than pushing it around, but they also promote green cleaning (and reduce cost) because they don’t require constant replacement.

Also, energy-efficient vacuums and floor-cleaning machines that use HEPA filters can improve indoor air quality, which could lead to increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

4. Go green, not only to clean

Going green doesn’t need to stop with cleaning products. Look for Safer Choice or other eco-friendly labels on products such as athletic field paints, odor removers, graffiti removers and hand soaps used in your school.

Not sure where to start? Click this link and browse product options that meet the Safer Choice standard.

Follow these tips and start doing your part to ensure a healthy planet for years to come and a healthy learning environment for your students, teachers and staff.

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.

5 ways to keep your school healthy during allergy season

It’s officially spring, which means warmer weather and blooming flowers. And also the sound of sneezing.

Those blooming flowers and leafy trees mean pollen and other allergens are in the air, and the sneezing, watery eyes, itchiness and stuffy noses can have a huge impact on students and faculty at your school.

Spring allergies vary based on where you live, but there are some basic strategies you can use to help minimize their effects at your school.

Here are five ways your school can help keep everyone healthy during allergy season.

1. Motivate students and faculty to stay hydrated.

“Studies have shown that when you’re dehydrated your body produces higher histamine levels, and that drives allergies,” according to Neeta Ogden, an allergy specialist. Encourage people to bring water bottles to school and take breaks as needed. And don’t forget to keep your water fountains clean, especially the spigot – they are often the germiest places in schools.

2. Avoid allergens by staying inside.

As tempting as it may be to enjoy the nice weather, don’t take your students outside for class when pollen counts are high or when it’s windy. The pollen will not only bother those with allergies, but will also enter the building every time you crack open a door.

3. Use a microfiber cloth and mop when cleaning.

Microfiber cloths and mops trap the allergens instead of letting them loose into the air. Don’t forget to also regularly sweep or vacuum. If you have rugs or carpets in classrooms, make sure they get cleaned often. People walk in and track dust or pollen. The cleaner your school is, the less likely these allergens are able to stay inside.

4. Crank up the cold air in classrooms.

The air conditioner can help keep pollen out by filtering the air. And make sure to keep windows closed at all times. That way the pollen will stay where it belongs: outside.

5. It’s not just about pollen. Keep your school free of mold.

It’s not just pollen you have to be worried about. Mold can also cause problems in school buildings. Schools accumulate mold on ceilings, around windows, near water fountains, on walls and bathroom tiles, in books and on carpets, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Make sure you are reporting any water leaks, humidity level changes and moisture problems to your facilities staff. You can manage mold in your school by conducting regular maintenance and building inspections, as well as by controlling the moisture.

To make sure your school is prepared, track the allergy forecast for your area here. This way you can make sure your school is doing the right things to keep students and faculty healthy during the times when allergies are at their peak.

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 easy ways to encourage recycling in your school

Schools produce a lot of waste. Think of all the paper, plastic bottles and paper towels a school can go through in just one day.

That’s why robust recycling programs in schools are critical in driving change. Recycling not only reduces the amount of waste in landfills, but also conserves natural resources, saves energy and creates jobs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

While recycling has increased in recent years, the rate is still just 35 percent.

Is your school doing enough to promote recycling? You can start by helping students, teachers and staff see the impact recycling can make on the planet and showing them how easy it can be. Here are three ways you can improve recycling in your school.

1. Show your school cares.

Schools help to shape habits that carry on to our adult life. When you add recycling into the daily lives of students and teach them what recycling really is, it will help them carry it into the future.

Natalie Walker, a sustainability coordinator with Compass Group, suggests raising awareness by hanging posters with fun facts or statistics related to recycling in hallways and in the cafeteria. That helps spread the message and show how much recycling can make a difference to the environment.

Then set goals for your school, like reducing paper use by 10 percent or reducing the amount of hand towels purchased by 20 percent. Make it fun by promising an award if students help your school meet these goals.

2. Customize recycling bins and add color.

Set of recycling bins Set of recycling bins

Recycling can be confusing. Inconsistent labels can make it hard for even the most well-intentioned person to put waste in the right place.

Properly labeled bins with pictures and examples of what belongs in it make it easy for teachers and students to do the right thing. A recent study on recycling posters by the University of Toronto found that the addition of images on recycling bins doubled the amount of waste diverted from landfills.

3. Don’t just recycle paper – reuse it.

Millions of trees are cut down each year to make paper. With education being so paper-intensive, finding ways to recycle and reduce the amount of paper used in schools is crucial.

In addition to a recycling bin, set up a box for reusable paper so students can reuse sheets that have only been used on one side. An elementary school in California saved 100 reams of paper using this method, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

Incorporating these practices into your school can help turn students into lifelong recyclers. By doing so, you can help decrease pollution levels, save trees and help save the environment.

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.

The 7 germiest places in schools

What’s the germiest place in your school? Your mind might immediately jump to the bathroom – specifically the toilet – but that’s not even in the top five. (In fact, a cellphone carries 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. Crazy, right?)

With cold and flu season in full swing, it’s important to keep high-touch areas clean to prevent the spread of germs and illness. So what areas of the school should you be paying the most attention to?

Here’s where microbiologists found the most germs in two Michigan elementary schools as part of a study for NSF International:

  1. Water fountain spigot
  2. Plastic reusable cafeteria tray
  3. Faucet
  4. Cafeteria plate
  5. Classroom keyboard
  6. Toilet seat
  7. Students’ hands

That’s right – the study found more germs on average on a water fountain spigot and keyboard than on a toilet seat. (The study only tested surfaces that the elementary school kids regularly come in contact with at school, which is why you don’t see cellphones on the list.)

But knowledge is power. Now that we’ve identified the germ magnets, we can focus on how to keep them clean and prevent the spread of germs.

Wash your hands

What do most of the things on that germ-filled list have in common? They’re high-touch areas (or they’re the things that do the touching, in No. 7’s case).

One way to help keep those high-touch areas clean is to encourage students, teachers and staff to keep their hands clean. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and running water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.

Teachers and administrators can set an example for students by regularly washing their hands, and handwashing moments could be incorporated into the day during breaks or class changes.

Have a plan

Make sure your support staff has a plan and guidelines for cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing these high-touch, germy areas, and use on-site supervisors to make sure the job is being done well on a consistent basis.

Consider creating a special cleaning checklist for cold and flu season to help prevent the spread of illness during winter.

Want to learn more about how SSC keeps even the germiest places in schools clean? Get in touch with us. And don’t forget to wipe down your keyboard.

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.