Back to school season is here. When classes resume, school will become your child’s second home. And we know how tough it can be to say farewell to summer and send your child off to a new classroom, especially if it’s cleaned using those conventional products you try to avoid. What’s a parent to do?
Don’t worry, even though your internal toxic alarm bells may be ringing! Now that your family has learned the ropes of creating a greener, cleaner, safer home by doing things like using non-toxic products and recycling — you can share those lessons with their school, too!
The first step is to choose what you’d like to do. You can’t solve every problem, so choose one at a time and tackle it using the 5 “Ps” our Co-Founder Christopher Gavigan outlines in his book, Healthy Child Healthy World.
- Positive. Optimism and hopefulness motivate you and those around you. Plus, to get someone to help you accomplish something, sweetness goes a long way.
- Persistent. If you can’t get someone to listen, talk to someone else. If the solution you’re offering isn’t working, try Plan B. Don’t give up.
- Pragmatic. Figure out if the outcome you’re striving for is achievable. School staff may have little time or money to make the changes you’re asking for, but truly appreciate the help you’re offering. Consider some simple steps:
- Promote safer hand sanitizers. Even simply using products that are fragrance free is a step in the right direction. And once you get staff to take that very small first step, it’s much easier for you to get them to take the next, and the next, and the next…
- Help make the switch to green cleaners. This one used to be a stretch, but tons of schools are doing it, there are oodles of products available, and it can save the school money (in addition to protecting health and the planet!) Check out Green Seal for recommendations.
- Start a club and put the kids in charge. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice coordinates the Green Flag School Program and it’s been successfully empowering kids in grades K-12 to make safer, healthier school environments for years.
- Patient. Success is almost never immediate. People are busy; institutions and organizations have budgets and priorities to consider.
- (Full of) Perspective. When making important changes — or being frustrated by the lack of progress in making them — it’s easy to lose sight of things: the outcome becomes everything, or all is lost if you haven’t succeeded. It’s vital to maintain the ability to step back and remember all the other things that matter.
The second step to making change is making allies. Partner with administrators and teachers, even if it’s just a few that share your same concerns (perhaps a science teacher?). For the most part, the people who work at schools truly have the best intentions when it comes to your child and simply lack the resources and time they need to do everything they dream of (especially in public schools!). Attend a PTA meeting to rally the support of other parents and form a committee to support green initiatives around the school through education, fundraisers, and community volunteerism.
Okay, with all of that said, the really great news is that schools that adopt greener, healthier practices reap a bunch of awesome benefits like:
Enhanced student health and performance
- Reduced environmental impacts
- Increased attendance
- Reduced operating and maintenance costs (Yes! They can SAVE money!)
- Increased staff satisfaction
And enough schools are making these changes that there are tons of real life examples your school can model themselves after. Here are some Web sites with great tools and experts to help you on your journey:
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Healthy School Environments Program
- Collaborative for High Performance Schools
- The U.S. Green Building Council Center for Green Schools
If you’re looking for something a little more bite-sized with ideas for getting students involved, check out The Everything Green Classroom Book by Tessa Hill. It’s filled with fun ideas for bringing the concepts of eco-friendly and non-toxic living into the classroom!
Have you worked with your child’s school to be greener and less toxic? Please share your experiences and favorite resources in the comments!