“Among all childhood chronic diseases, asthma is the number one cause of school absence,” said Magzamen. “We know that there is a link between students’ health and their school performance. One of our research goals is to understand if green schools are associated with better educational outcomes due to fewer missed days of school, headaches, fatigue or other health issues that interfere with learning.”
Additionally, environmental economists Dale Manning and Jordan Suter will look at how the green retrofits influence energy, water, waste, operating costs and educational outcomes to make a holistic case: If districts have the funds to improve their schools, where do they get the most bang for their buck?
“The multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary perspective is very critical for a study such as this,” said Stephanie Barr, research associate and projects manager for IBE. “If health or energy reduction is the only angle being evaluated in green schools, without also considering the education or socioeconomic context, the study results will not be as robust. This is where we see IBE’s role in university research—bringing together those faculty that might not have the opportunity to work together, and supporting them to answer these multi-faceted questions.”
Northern Colorado is the ideal spot for this research because it is viewed as a leader in green school implementation, making this study a natural fit. There is a large diversity of older traditional schools, retrofitted or renovated schools, and new green schools.
Researchers will be able to observe students’ transition between different building types over the course of three school years, focusing on students in fifth grade through 10th grade. All the data on student performance, health and environmental measures will be evaluated in order to understand the impact of the physical environment.
The idea for the research project evolved from a collaborative group called the Sustainable Strategies Team, consisting of representatives from the Poudre School District, the St. Vrain Valley School District, the city of Fort Collins Utilities and IBE, which is based in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. The group meets each month to discuss school district sustainability topics.
“When we brought this research opportunity to the SST group, they were really on board. This project will answer school environment questions we all have,” Barr said. “It’s not just CSU coming in and doing a study; it’s partnering with the city and school districts to answer fundamental questions that will inform school design and ultimately benefit students in our community and across the nation.”