From Smart Construction to Smart Learning
Test scores are rising and students are feeding a growing interest in the environment at West Brazos Junior High School in West Columbia, Texas. And school leaders have the building itself-the only LEED-certified public school in the state - to thank for it.
Officials from the Columbia-Brazoria Independent School District say that comparing student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in the new junior high building to performance on the TAKS in the old building reveals reading, mathematics, and social studies improvements, which can be attributed to the focus on green design and construction. Reading improved 5 percentage points to 96 percent of students mastering the test to the state standard, math improved 4 points to 91 percent, and social studies improved 7 points to 92 percent.
Referrals have also decreased dramatically from 1,518 in the 2005-2006 school year to 1,013 during 2006-2007 to currently fewer than 800.
Constructed for the 2006-2007 academic year to replace the previous campus for seventh- and eighth-graders, the new school is the result of a dynamic collaboration between the district, architect, engineers and construction managers.
"We aimed to create an environment that would maximize efficient teaching and learning," says Assistant Superintendent Martha Buckner.
The school's features include special glazing on windows to improve thermal efficiency, shading devices that double as light shelves to distribute light further into learning spaces, a housekeeping program that utilizes green cleaning products and services, and a reflective roofi ng and paving system to reduce the heat island effect in and around the building, says Jennifer Henrikson, project manager for SHW Group, the architects behind the design.
Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, otherwise known as LEED, represents West Brazos' attainment of nationally accepted standards for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.
"We wanted to focus on making smarter choices, not necessarily more expensive choices," says Buckner, who points out that the school was able to achieve the LEED-certified level without adding significant costs to the overall construction budget.
The design and construction credentials of the school notwithstanding, the real benefits come from how they are being applied to the students' educational experience. Signage has been integrated into West Brazos' interior to promote discussion of environmental awareness among students-giving it the feel of a sort of "green museum" - and teachers are using class time to explore the links between sustainable design and their respective core and elective subject areas.
Buckner says that despite their young age the students understand the importance of the green movement, and that their achievement increases go hand-inhand with being in a clean, inviting school with sunlight streaming in.
Guiding the Way to Energy Efficiency
A new easy-to-follow guide on constructing energy-smart schools published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers is now available to district officials free of charge.
The publication, Advanced Energy Design Guide for K12 School Buildings, is part of a series of guides that provide sensible approaches to easily achieve advanced levels of energy savings without having to resort to detailed calculations or analysis.
"ASHRAE wants to get this valuable guidance into the hands of design teams," says ASHRAE president Kent Peterson. "As today's children are the future leaders of the world, there is no better time to launch this program than with the release of this K12 book." Included are tools and design recommendations-such as providing daylighting to classrooms and gyms so lights can be off most of the day-for schools to achieve advanced energy savings beyond 30 percent. The publication is available at www.ashrae.org.
Sales Taxes for New Orleans Schools
Voters in New Orleans' St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, a district that has surpassed its pre-Katrinapopulation to an enrollment of more than 35,000, recently approved tax measures that will provide a stream of sales tax income to pump $167 million into the school system for capital, technology and security improvements, according to complete but unofficial election results.
About $150 million of the bond will be used to build a new elementary school and an advanced-studies high school, and $15 million for technology upgrades such as expanding online capacity and purchasing Promethean boards. District officials are in the process of coordinating the projects.