It's back to school time, and new classrooms and new lessons await. Despite all that will be different, there's much that hasn't changed in schools since I was a kid, decades ago. Some of that is as it should be -- rituals like book reports and pep rallies are ingrained in the American experience and part of what binds us together as a people -- but there are other things that need an upgrade. Here are a few changes I'd make if I were principal for a day:
- School lunches that are good for you and taste good. Given what we know today about food and nutrition, it's alarming to see so many school cafeterias stuck in the 1950s. I know that the unpalatable prevalence of over-processed ingredients has to do with tight budgets and archaic government food programs, but I think we can do better. Schools should be encouraged to start their own gardens and partner with local growers and providers to establish new supplies of fresher and more wholesome foods. Wherever possible, kids should get involved in the growing of their food so they can learn where it comes from and gain new perspectives on our current food system. Stir in a little kitchen creativity emphasizing whole foods, natural ingredients, in-season cooking, and other strategies, and we'd have a recipe for healthier student bodies and smarter future generations.
- Buses that sit idly by. Most school buses have diesel engines and most of those engines idle while drivers wait for kids. The result is wasted energy, unnecessary wear-and-tear, and, most importantly, toxic emissions. There's no reason for buses to idle, which makes the solution here as simple as turning the ignition key. If drivers kill their engines whenever they're not moving, they'll leave everyone breathing easier.
- Daily clean ups that don't make more of a mess. Anyone who's stayed after school knows what happens when the final bell rings: the maintenance staff scrubs, washes, mops, and otherwise wipes the whole place down. How do they get that dirty job done? In all too many cases, with industrial petrochemical cleaners that can contaminate surfaces and fill school air with fumes. It's quite ironic: we work like crazy to create the healthiest possible home and then send our children off to school where they're exposed to toxins for seven hours a day. The answer is to convince our schools to safeguard the health of students and staff alike by using only safe cleaning and other products.
There are other things I'd change about school (like the length of summer vacation), but this is where I'd begin. Schools need to create the healthiest possible environment for our kids, and we parents need to help them do it. In many cases, administrators and staff aren't even aware of these issues. If that's the case in your community, a little education and involvement is likely all you need to teach the staff a few lessons about sustainability and green cleaning. Here's to making the 2010-2011 school year the best yet for all our kids.