How Opening a Window Has the Potential to Save Your Grades
If you are part of the younger generation, you may be familiar with what teenagers have dubbed 'school air' - an idea in which students believe that entering the school building exposes them to some sort of air that makes them feel sick, tired, and overall in a state of physical unease. It is generally accepted that this idea of 'school air' is untrue - a mere myth invented by teenagers looking for something to complain about - but what if I told you it was real?
Worldwide, 7-9 million people die of causes related to air pollution annually, with 600,000 of these deaths being children. This is due to the fact that 93% of the world's children breathe toxic air every day, made harmful through both smoke and sickness. A recent investigation found that 97% of cities holding >100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines, with only 13 countries/regions passing the overall test.
But what does this mean for students? Schools were among the top three in a ranking of public spaces with the worst indoor air, alongside malls and doctors' offices. This is entirely unsurprising, as with up to 30 students per room, packed in among one another, it seems impossible to prevent the spread of harmful microbes. In an investigation I constructed in my school, it was found that some classrooms have CO2 levels of up to 4560ppm (parts per million), which is only >500ppm away from being at a level that most jurisdictions have dubbed as the 'workplace exposure limit'. CO2 measurements between 2000 and 5000ppm are reported to result in headaches, nausea, sleepiness, increased heart rate, and lack of concentration, and with most students being forced to sit in these conditions for up to 8 hours a day, it is no wonder that they have produced a term for it.
This isn't the full extent of the issue, either. Schools are also found to have high transmission rates for sicknesses, such as COVID-19 - a sickness proven to cause encephalitis. Encephalitis (also known as brain inflammation) can trigger memory problems and difficulty concentrating, as well as mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. These symptoms all have the potential to take a toll on an individual's education, as they result in higher student absence rates, which further results in less time spent at school learning the fundamentals that they may need to pass exams. COVID-19 can also infect the lining of blood vessels, leading to an increased likelihood of blood clots. These blood clots make the individual (no matter how young, or how healthy) susceptible to strokes, leaving them with difficulty speaking/understanding speech, and weakness. This level of disruption in a student's life may also leave them with bad attendance rates, leaving them behind their peers and stressed for their future.
These are only two of the many side effects that unclean air can have on a student's brain and body, and with things such as their future on the line, it may seem unwise for an individual to take the risk associated with simply entering the school building. However, the issue, like many, is easily solved.
It has been found that simply opening a window in schools significantly reduces the transmission rate of debilitating ailments, which therefore improves attendance rates due to students being able to remain at school. By implementing cross-ventilation in rooms (in which there is a window or door open on opposite sides of the room, allowing for better airflow), we can reduce levels of not only sickness but also failed classes. If opening a window isn't possible, there is also the option for members of the school community to build their very own DIY air filter, known as a Corsi-Rosenthal box. These boxes, constructed out of a number of MERV-13 grade filters and a box fan, have been found to filter out lint, household dust, dust mite debris, mould spores, pollen, pet dander, smoke, smog, cough/sneeze debris, bacteria, viruses (including Covid-19), and candle soot. With one of these in every classroom, we could potentially see a cleaner future.
With every step we take towards clean air, whether it be through walking to work instead of taking the car or through building your very own air filter, we move closer to being able to give the next group of people inhabiting our planet a chance at seeing the world as it is today. By cracking a window open, every generation may be able to see a change – this change could simply be making a school day more enjoyable, or saving someone from irreversible disability. Either way, it is essential that as a society, we make a concerted effort to put an end to unclean air, and therefore an end to disruption in schools.
Komaroff, A. L., MD. (2023). Does COVID-19 damage the brain? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/does-covid-19-damage-the-brain
Jun, J. (2019, March 30). 10 Public Places with the Worst Indoor Air. Molekule. https://molekule.com/blogs/all/10-public-places-with-the-worst-indoor-air
Vielleux, M. J., Swartwood, S., Nguyen, D., James, K., Barbeau, B., & Bonkowsky, J. L. (2023). SARS-COV-2 infection and increased risk for pediatric stroke. Pediatric Neurology, 142, 89–94. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2022.10.003
Carr, J., & Carr, J. (2022, September 23). Open classroom windows between lessons so kids don’t get too cold, says DfE. Schools Week. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/open-classroom-windows-between-lessons-so-kids-dont-get-too-cold-says-dfe/