Clear Out The Clutter

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We don’t always think about it, but dust comes from our clothes, our skin, and various other items we use during the day. It also, importantly, contains dust mites and cockroach dander (yes, it’s true!) that can be very harmful to breathe, especially to kids with asthma or other respiratory problems.

Nearly one in every 13 school-age kids suffer from asthma. The EPA’s Tools for Schools Indoor Air Quality program gives tips for keeping a healthy classroom, and one of the simplest and most crucial steps is to clean out the clutter. Those corner piles of paper and decorations and science experiments serve as great collection areas for dust—not to mention their tendency to block daylight from windows and get in the way of air conditioning and heating vents. Clean them out, and your classroom will be automatically easier to keep clean and healthy.

Measure your impact

Do a cleanliness assessment of the area (guidance for this is available in the resources below). If possible, partner with a college or university to measure particulates in the air before and one day after your clean-out project or measure the decrease in absence related to respiratory illness.

Get started

  • Interview your school’s custodial and maintenance staff to understand what green cleaning and health and safety practices are in place.
  • The school district may want to form a specific team focused on green cleaning, due to its health and safety benefits. Key participants to consider for this team are nurses, Environmental Health & Safety staff, custodians, and community health experts. The Healthy Schools Campaign has published tips for forming a team as part of their Green Clean Schools program.
  • Organize and clean classrooms, removing un-used papers, books and supplies. Strongly consider removing items that typically collect dust and mites, including stuffed animals, cloth pillows, and fabric. Clean all carpet thoroughly to remove all dust and dirt build-up. Ensure that the heating and cooling units, windows and vents supplying air to your classroom are free of obstructions. Ensure that animal cages and fish tanks are regularly cleaned.
  • Connect student learning with sustainability action. Learning Lab offers high-quality classroom content — over 450 lessons — for teachers from kindergarten to high school. In the 3-lesson module "Sensing Air Quality," students learn why air quality is important and how their sense of smell can help them identify air pollution. You can find more modules to educate students about protecting air quality by searching Learning Lab's catalog by theme, primary subject, grade or keyword.
  • Educate school staff on what what supports or impedes healthy, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable learning spaces. The Green Classroom Professional Course breaks down the different aspects of building sustainability, including indoor environmental and green cleaning, and identifies the effects they have on school occupants and the environment.

Additional resources

Materials for this project

If applying for a mini-grant through the site, these materials among others are included in the site's available vendors: