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Tag Archives: sick building syndrome

The Impact of Aging Public Schools on Teachers and Students

My last sixteen years of teaching took place at Nogales High School in La Puente, California.

Nogales was built in 1961. By the time I left teaching, Nogales was forty-four years old.

During the last few years when I entered my classroom in the mornings, I started to wheeze and sinus infections were an annual school year occurrence.

Years earlier, in the 1990s, the flat roof above my classroom had sagged resulting in a pool of water when it rained, which leaked into the room.

The year the roof first leaked, I taught four sections of ninth grade English and my fifth and last section of the day was journalism. There were tables along the back wall that held journalism’s Mac computers, a printer and scanner.  Because the worse leaks occurred above the computers, I bought a sheet of plastic to cover them and placed trashcans around the room to catch water from the worst leaks.

By then, the brown, industrial grade carpeting was worn and spotted with dark blotches where gum had been ground into the fabric by unruly students. After the rain, a large portion of the carpet at the back of the room became a spongy mass as it absorbed water from the leaks.

One summer early in the 21st century, the school district removed the old leaky roofs, rafters and all, until the classrooms were open to the sky.  Then new roofs that were not flat were built on the old walls.  However, that brown carpet remained.

According to BEST (Building Educational Success Together), school districts in the US have an estimated $271 billion of deferred (which means they don’t have the money and have to put it off) building maintenance in their schools, excluding administrative facilities…

Many of America’s public schools are aging and causing health problems adding another challenge to teaching.

Near the end of my teaching career (1975 – 2005), I often came down with sinus and respiratory infections but not during the summers when I was not teaching.

The last few years, the indoor air quality in my classroom was so bad that minutes after entering the class, I started to wheeze and then get a low-grade headache that stayed with me all day.  Nogales had more than a 100 people working there.  When I asked if anyone from the staff was having health problems similar to mine, about 20 to 25% said yes and the symptoms were similar.

BEST says, “A national survey of school nurses found over 40% knew children and staff adversely impacted by avoidable indoor pollutants.”

I didn’t plan to retire at sixty.  My goals were to teach until I was sixty-five and leave teaching in 2010.  However, I left five years early due to the wheezing, sinus infections and headaches that all happened or started in my classroom.

I left teaching in 2005, I haven’t wheezed or had a sinus infection since.

One study found that unsatisfactory buildings in need of improvements/repairs influenced test scores, attendance and suspension rates. Another study revealed a 4 to 9% difference in achievement between students in schools in worst/best condition and a 5-9% difference between students in oldest/newest schools in addition to a 4% difference in graduation rates between students in schools in worst/best condition. Source: 21st Century School Fund

The quality of school buildings affects the ability of teachers to teach, teacher morale, and the very health and safety of teachers.

Despite the importance of the condition of school buildings, serious deficiencies have been well documented, particularly in large, urban school districts (see for example, GAO 1995). Moreover, since school buildings in the United States are, on average, over forty years old—just the time when rapid deterioration often begins—we should expect problems with school facilities to worsen.

For example, poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is widespread and many schools suffer from “sick building syndrome” (see, for example, EPA 2000), which in turn increases student absenteeism and reduces student performance (see EPA 2000; Kennedy 2001; Leach 1997; Smedje and Norback 1999; Rosen and Richardson 1999).

Since current student-focused asthma studies show that students lose considerable school time because of the poor conditions of schools, it is not surprising to find that poor IAQ also affects teachers’ health. In one study, fully two-thirds of Washington teachers surveyed reported poor indoor air quality in their school. Source: ncef.org

In my school district, teachers were given 10 sick days a year.  By the time I had taught 25 years, I had about 180 sick days saved.  I used up about half  the last three years I taught.

Discover how Sewer Teaching is a Smelly Art or learn from HEPA Filters Do Not Work Miracles

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 4/4

What the workers left behind caused my sinuses to run a hundred mile marathons accompanied by a bombarment of sneezing.

I went to the VA doctor and he prescribed medications that didn’t work.

As the days passed, the sneezing went volcanic—like Mt. Saint Helena blowing its top.

One time, I sneezed so hard, I blew the 3M mask off my face—so much for a mask that’s supposed to protect you from every gas and WMD plague Islamic terrorists can brew.

Upstairs or outside, I was fine. However in my home office, I was a goner.

“Blam, blam, balm,” my nose exploded like rapid shots from a fifty-caliber submachine gun.

I could have opened windows, but it’s been raining for weeks. The sky has been overcast. The air breezy and cold.

Then the sun came out and I let the outside in and the sneezing stopped—I’m crossed my fingers and knocked on wood. I’m afraid to close the windows, but night will come and with it lower temperatures. I feared that whatever industrial poisons haunting my once tranquil office space might return.

As I update this post months later, I’m happy to report that the sneezing ended that day.

Return to  Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 3 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

 

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Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 3/4

I could have moved, but I didn’t want to disconnect all the cables and cart the computer equipment to another room for a few days—something (I soon discovered) would have been impossible without checking into a hotel.

If the school district where I worked for three decades would have let me, I would have rented a space in a nearby strip mall and taught my students away from the  sick buildings.

But back in my home office, even with a noise suppresser over my ears, muted sounds intruded and the last place I wanted to be was in that chair writing about China, the Vietnam War or writing about being a teacher in the tortured American public schools.

I stuck with it for several days as my suppressed anger fueled by PTSD started to simmer and fume.

It was a relief when the workers finished. I thought I was going to have the tranquility back where the only noise would be the click of the keys as my warmed hands flew across the keyboard meeting my Blogging goals.

But the workers left something behind.

Continued in Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 4 or return to Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

 

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Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 2/4

When I left the office to find a moment of peace, I covered the computer and printers with a bed sheet. The noise reminded me of combat but worse, because I was nineteen and then twenty when I was in Vietnam—noise did not bother me as it does now.

Concrete dust floated through the air and my sinuses and lungs rebelled, so I put on a 3M mask with two pink HEPA filters attached.

The last time I wore a mask like this was when I was teaching.

I searched the garage and found a noise suppresser to slip over my ears and it helped mute the pounding and drilling.

I looked like an explorer on Mars or a survivor of trench warfare struggling to write while the frigid air froze my fingers.

The crew had arrived to bolster the foundation against future earthquakes that might never arrive. Even if a hard tumbler did visit, I doubt that all that work would hold our sixty-year old hillside house together. It still might slide down the hill into the middle of the street blocking traffic.

Continued in Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 3 or return to Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

 

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Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 1/4

It’s difficult to teach or write when I’m gasping for air and exploding my sinus.

When I was still teaching (1975 – 2005) there were years when walking into the empty classroom in the morning made me sick—and no, I wasn’t allergic to my students.

Then I retired from teaching (but not from life), and I have been free of wheezy lungs and sinus infections that always arrived with the start of each school year when I worked in those old buildings at the high school where I taught. Have you heard of sick building syndrome?

I lived it.

This new, peaceful world changed when workers came with power tools and mud-caked boots.

I should have fled, but I stayed at my computer as a stupid, stubborn, former United States Marine would.

My office has three doors. One that leads to to rest of the house and one that opens to the outside.

Then there is the door that opens to the space under the second story.

Once under the house, that crew drilled into the foundation, pounded, cut and tracked dirt from room to room—always in my office.

I had trouble concentrating. I suffered memory loss. Plastic tarps covered most of the furniture, and I couldn’t find things.

Continued in Teaching or Writing with Pain, Pollution and People – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

 

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