Teachers awareness of school building sustainability : the case of Carmel School, Mathews, North Carolina

Salama, Ashraf M (2004) Teachers awareness of school building sustainability : the case of Carmel School, Mathews, North Carolina. In: IAPS Vienna 2004: Evaluation in Progress - Strategies for Environmental Research and Implementation, 2004-07-07 - 2004-07-09.

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A growing body of green knowledge is emerging in support of the worldwide surge in the construction of learning environments. Recent Studies on sustainability suggest a strong correlation between the physical environment of school building and students’ performance and behavior. This paper envisages an argument to support this premise based on a structured content analysis procedure. The typical approach for addressing sustainability in learning environments is analytically discussed. This approach—through guidance documents—emphasizes top-down policies that successfully address the professional community. However, school building users are rarely addressed through bottom-up strategies. In response to this situation, a tool was developed to sensitize schoolteachers toward understanding the key issues underlying sustainability. This is based on the assumption that “if the learning environment has an impact on students performance, productivity, and behavior, then teachers need to be aware of the physical elements of the school building that influence their students.” In order to address an effective bottom-up strategy that involves building users, the tool was devised as an awareness-raising mechanism where teachers can take a walking tour through their building. It allows them to explore, think, comprehend, and develop impressions and deeper insights into the understanding of their environment from sustainability perspective, then transforming this understanding to their students. The tool is named PLADEW and encompasses four sets of questions that examine key issues of sustainable planning and design. Questions were classified under the following factors: 1) Planning and Zoning, 2) landscaping, 3) Designing, and 4) Energy and Waste. PLADEW was examined by a number of architects and elementary school teachers. They were asked to provide their feedback concerning any ambiguity of the questions or the terminology used, and also to add any questions they feel they are critical to be addressed. 15 teachers responded and few of them noted that they had difficulty understanding some of the terms. As a result, a glossary was added to the tool and included definitions of terms such as buffer zone, site topography, gray water system, and building shell. Carmel school in Mathews, North Carolina has been selected to implement the tool. Its campus has been designed in 1992 and includes kindergarten and elementary wings. It houses several after school programs where the south Charlotte community is involved. Carmel Schoolteachers conducted self-guided tours and became familiar with sustainability. They were not requested to follow a specific route within the school. They were informed to structure their tour and to start by the site and the outdoor environment then tour the interior of the building. The overall time frame for conducting the tour was one hour, so that the process would not consume their time. Teachers have been actively involved in the awareness process. A number of teachers have conducted the tour in groups. However, each had his/her own response sheet. The intention was not to reach a comprehensive conclusion about Carmel school building sustainability. However, the analysis of teachers’ reactions reveals striking results on how teachers perceive the building. 40 teachers received the tool and 22 responses were received. The overall results indicate that teachers were able to comprehend and realize what features positively impact the teaching/learning process while enhancing their students’ performance. In order to take full advantage of PLADEW and other awareness mechanisms and to benefit from the idea of the school building as a teaching tool, teachers should be involved early in the design process to better explain to the design team their current curriculum objectives and teaching procedures. Their involvement will help designers explore how sustainable design features can best be incorporated to maximize the learning experience. Exploratory creative thinking by teachers and designers during the initial stages of design fosters the production of educational opportunities once the building is completed and occupied. A brief set of recommendations was developed to emphasize bottom up strategies in the current efforts carried out by school districts and government agencies. Recommendations are centered on how to explicitly express sustainable design features in school buildings including issues that pertain to site design, daylight and windows, and electrical, mechanical, and sound systems. By incorporating awareness tools into sustainable guidance documents for school buildings, bottom up strategies can be effectively addressed acting as catalysts for raising teachers’ awareness of building sustainability, and thus providing opportunities to utilizing the building as a teaching tool.