Designing for Health: Battling Germs and Bugs in Schools
While the calendar shows that spring is just a few weeks away, cold and flu season is still rearing its ugly head. Throw in the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s enough to make anyone wary of spending time in enclosed spaces.
Places where large groups congregate lend themselves to the spreading of germs, and K-12 schools are no exception. Fortunately, there are design considerations that can help reduce the spreading of germs.
We know that proper handwashing1 is the best way to fight the spread of germs. So, we like to think about how design can encourage people to wash their hands more often. In elementary schools, this means ensuring that sinks are at an appropriate height. And at any age, handwashing opportunities should be located in areas that are convenient to common paths of travel to and from cafeterias, playgrounds, and athletic fields and courts. They also should be located so that staff can monitor students’ handwashing and encourage everyone to wash their hands more frequently.
Furniture & Furnishings
Teachers and staff often add homey touches in their areas. Lamps, rugs, and pillows may help students feel at home in their room, but there is a difference between commercial and residential finishes when it comes to quality and cleanability.
Cleanability of furniture and furnishings is vital in K-12 schools. Chairs, benches, booths, and stools need to be wiped down regularly, making material selection important. Solid surfaces and fabrics that can be easily disinfected should be considered when designing and selecting furnishings. Also, any fabric materials and upholstery should not harbor and promote the transmission of bedbugs or lice, especially in elementary grades.
Floors & Counters
Appropriate selection of materials throughout buildings can help promote proper cleaning. Seamless flooring eliminates grout lines where bacteria can grow. Another recent trend is the design of carpets with inlaid patterns. This provides visual interest without the need to provide area rugs over the classroom carpet.
Solid surface countertops are more expensive but aren’t prone to chipping or peeling as laminate alternatives. This makes them easier to clean and reduces common breeding areas for bacteria.
Lockers & Cubbies
Separating students’ personal belongings can also help reduce the possibility of the spread of insects such as lice or bedbugs. Individual metal lockers have declined in popularity in recent years, but fully enclosed solutions like these can often contain pests more effectively than an open cubby solution or students carrying backpacks from room to room.
We want to see all students succeed! With data that shows that reduced classroom absences leads to increased student achievement2, the overall goal of these design considerations is to promote more days in the classroom.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. "When and How to Wash Your Hands." October 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
2. Believe 2 Become. "Challenge 5". https://believe2become.org/programs/challenge-5/
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