Monday, June 02, 2008

Creating A Green Light District in Detroit by Akindele Akinyemi

Today, Detroit is in a prime position to become a hub for green technology. Oftentimes we do not discuss this endeavor because most of the time we have no clue what it will bring to our city economically. This is an untapped market and if we do not get on top of this we will lose out in the end.

As we redevelop charter schools here and begin to push for more educational choices we need to start talking about green schools. Detroit Public Schools, for example, have a coordinator to help develop green schools in the district. However, if the district is pumping out 24% of high school graduates per year then you can go red because the whole idea of going green in such a large school district will be tied up in redtape and bureaucracy. Therefore, charter schools should follow suit and join in the green revolution that will help bring in millions (if not billions) of dollars to create a green light district.

Speaking of charter and private schools these advocates who will be opening new charters in the City of Detroit need to think green as well. If we are going to revolutionize the way we conduct business in our educational system then we need better solutions.

A green school, also known as a high performance school, is a community facility that is designed, built, renovated, operated, or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner. Green schools protect occupant health, provide a productive learning environment, connect students to the natural world, increase average daily attendance, reduce operating costs, improve teacher satisfaction and retention, and reduce overall impact to the environment.

There is a greater need for green schools in Detroit. How these schools are built will have a tremendous impact on student performance, teacher and staff working environment, district operating and maintenance costs, and the region’s environmental quality for decades to come.

Charter schools who go green will lessen the impact of building construction on the environment and set an example for future generations that environmental quality is essential to our long-term well being. Schools designed with attention to proper ventilation, material selection, acoustical quality and other indoor environmental factors, can expect improved student and teacher health and higher attendance. Also, attention to site planning and adequate daylighting has been shown to heighten student performance by as much as 25%.

Think about the health implications for our children. I often hear how our children in our community is "off the hook." While some of them are born as substance abuse children did we ever stop to think about lead paint in our homes that can cause illness and psychological disorder? Many childhood diseases are on the rise. Asthma alone afflicts nearly 5 million children in the US, and is the primary cause of school absenteeism. Cancer is the number one disease–related cause of death in children, and the rates of many types of childhood cancer have risen. Childhood learning disabilities have also significantly increased nation wide. Many scientists believe that a great number of these diseases and learning problems can be related to children’s exposure to environmental health hazards in the womb and in their environment.

What about our children being stunning fact that schools across the country routinely expose children to pesticides? For instance, in the late 1990s, Connecticut schools reported 87% of 77 school districts surveyed sprayed pesticides indoors, where they could linger on desks, toys and other surfaces for up to two weeks. In Washington 88% of 33 school districts surveyed use one or more pesticides that can cause cancer, or damage the nervous system, hormone system or reproductive system. In California 93% of 46 school districts surveyed use pesticides.

Poor indoor air quality is yet another issue. Many schools are plagued with mold. Others pack students into portable and permanent classrooms that off–gas volatile or semi–volatile organic compounds. Others have such poor ventilation that children suffer. Symptoms identified include upper respiratory infections, irritated eyes, nose and throat, nausea, dizziness, headaches and fatigue, or sleepiness.

With a green school we could reverse the effects of cancer and other illness that are affecting our children.

What about the diet of the child? I have worked at schools that have nothing but junk foods and pop. Most of our educational leaders in our schools do not care anything about the nutrition of our children. In fact, some of them even bring in a bag of Cheetos or chili cheese fries for breakfast to work themselves. A green school that focuses on health, wealth and prosperity must focus on issues of basic nutrition, obesity, access to food, and fighting predatory marketing to children by soft drink corporations. This is a must not an option.

According to the Center for Disease Control figures, the overwhelming majority of K–12 schools (93.6%, 83.5% and 58.1% of high, middle and elementary schools) allow soft drinks and other high–added–sugar drinks to be sold in vending machines, cafeterias or other on–campus sites. Overall, from 1977 to 1996, soda consumption by 12–19 year olds increased by 75% for boys and 40% for girls. Chocolate candy sales are not that far behind. Meanwhile, more than 20 percent of public schools sell high–fat fast food such as Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.

These companies have also harnessed the schools as an advertising vehicle to reach a prime target audience. Many schools allow the fast food and junk food corporations to place their ads on school grounds or even in the school buildings. Some of these companies also reach 12,000 schools and 8 million children via Channel One, an in–school marketing program that provides TV programming in exchange for running ads for Hostess Twinkies, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, M&M’s and Snickers bars, among others to a captive audience of kids.

This has to stop.

I support a measure with creating a green school called Farm to School. This is sorely needed in Detroit schools whether your child goes to DPS, private or a charter school. Farm to School programs connect connect schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local small farmers. During my lectures on charter schools I often tell educational or school leaders to look into the holistic approach of running a charter and not so much the regular day to day. A holistic approach to owning and operating a charter school is to obtain farmland in the South where you can promote children’s health, but also support local, small–scale, sustainable, organic agriculture instead of the big agribusiness that dominates school lunch programs, increasingly relies on the production of genetically modified crops, and walks hand in hand with the fast food industry.

Farm to School programs have proven that children will eat healthy, fresh and flavorful products if they are served in an appealing way, and reinforced through experiences in and out of the classroom that support healthy eating behavior.

Some schools in Metro Detroit use a creative way to connect what children eat with teaching about health, nutrition and the environment by creating a garden at school and grow food on site. Gardens that are integrated into school resource use planning, can compost food and yard waste, plowing it back into the soil. Teachers use the gardens to teach basic ecological principles hands–on, while teaching to standards on subjects such as science, math and social studies.

Neither state nor federal government agencies have put near sufficient resources into environmental education over the years. The US EPA spends $8 million on environmental education—the equivalent of 3 cents per citizen.

Charter schools in Michigan can lead the green revolution by either renovating or building schools from the ground up will save $100,000 per year – enough to hire two new teachers, buy 200 new computers or purchase 5,000 new textbooks. If all new charter school construction and school renovations went green starting today, energy savings alone would total more than $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Charter schools must understand the benefits of going green. It will cost on average less than 2%, or about $3 per square foot more, to build a green versus traditional school, and payback often occurs within a few years due to energy savings. Because I have endorsed FRESH people running for state representative this year in Detroit (Carol Banks, Carol Weaver, Sheila Dapremont, Jeanean Bryant and Denise Monroe Hearn) hopefully we can get them all, once they are officially elected to the State House, to embrace green schools and green technology by secure passage of legislative or appropriations measures that encourage green school construction or renovation projects, including: designs and materials that promote energy and water efficiency, improve indoor air quality, maximize the use of natural lighting, use recycled and non-toxic substances, and feature acoustics that produce a better learning environment.

The incinerator on Russell and I-94 must be shut down immediately. There are nearby schools (Plymouth Educational Center, Crockett, University Preparatory Academy and the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences...which students led a protest back in 2001 about how the incinerator were making them sick). The area is ripe for redevelopment and building a green light district in an area that has the highest rate of asthma would bring life back to the community. That is taking the PRO-LIFE issue on a higher level.

Furthermore, good acoustics in classrooms ensure that teachers can be heard without straining their voices. Studies show that all building occupants benefit from daylight and access to views, and research indicates that teachers are happier when they have the ability to control their environments.

The green light district can begin right here in the City of Detroit and its surrounding areas by allowing educational leadership to reinvent charters to go green to help retain families in the areas to re-create a depleted tax base. We are responsible for our community and our lives. Let us make the best of it.

1 comment:

Mr.Mealticket said...

Dale Foster supports the new initiatives for Charter schools and green schools. Candidate Dale Foster for 3rd district state rep has metioned people services matter too. Changing in schools is a must. Candidate Dale Foster eastside resident has leadership proven among formmer Detroit council members.