Do green schools make better learning environments? Are green schools healthier for children and teachers? Do green, healthy schools support higher student test scores?

Photo by David Patterson Photography, courtesy of RB and B Architects
CSU researchers will be comparing student health and performance at schools like Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins to those at others that do not have as many green features.

Researchers at Colorado State University plan to find out. Jennifer Cross, a professor of sociology, has received a four-year, $1-million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to analyze the effects of green school buildings on student health and performance.

Cross is leading an interdisciplinary team that includes researchers from CSU’s Institute for the Built Environment (IBE), Dept. of Sociology, Dept. of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences and Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics. They will work with the Poudre and St. Vrain Valley school districts to consider many different variables when evaluating the effects of green schools.

Cross, who is the director of research for IBE and co-director of the Center for Energy and Behavior, will conduct surveys with students and teachers to measure well-being and determine their satisfaction with the building.

“One of the goals of the green school movement is to make buildings healthier places for students,” Cross said. “So far, there have been only a few studies to really assess the impact of buildings on student health, and none of them are longitudinal.”

Cross, who is based in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts, will also work with the districts to supply resources and support to teachers leading science labs with students, bringing the research full circle. She said the team will compare factors like student grades, test scores and disciplinary records to see if students in green schools perform at higher levels.

“We’ll be looking to see what patterns we find in the data,” Cross said. “For instance, certain lighting creates a different environment, and it affects the learning that goes on there.”

Going Beyond Anecdotes

Brian Dunbar, executive director of IBE, professor emeritus at CSU, and one of the researchers on the grant, says anecdotal evidence has illustrated the positive effects of healthy, green schools.

“If we are able to show a significant link between healthy school environments and student performance,” Dunbar said, “schools and districts across the nation and the world will come to understand the need for properly day-lit, comfortable schools constructed with healthy materials and maintained with green cleaning techniques.”

Dunbar will lead a team of CSU graduate students to measure the quality of buildings in the Poudre and St. Vrain Valley school districts by monitoring temperature, acoustics, the amount of natural light and the quality of the HVAC systems.

To evaluate how the school building design affects the air quality in classrooms, Dept. of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences professors Sheryl Magzamen and Stephen Reynolds will be testing classroom air samples for the presence of toxins, pollutants and allergens, and linking these measures of exposure to respiratory and other health outcomes for students and teachers.