Virginia students make their school’s air safer
When Mary Breslin’s seventh-grade science class at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia, met for the first time in fall of 2018, several students noticed something strange: a mushroom growing out from underneath the baseboard in their classroom.
No one in the class, including Ms. Breslin, had ever seen a mushroom growing out of a wall before. As the class explored this mystery further, they discovered that the mushroom was an indication of a larger problem lurking beneath the baseboard – the intrusion of water caused by rain and high humidity. The moisture created prime conditions for the growth of mold and fungus. While this discovery led the school to immediately move the class to a new room, three of Ms. Breslin’s students were so fascinated that they decided to make it the focus of their science fair project. Through that project students collected mold samples, had the samples analyzed in a local lab, and developed conclusions about the toxicity and risks for students and educators.
The project did not end with the science fair.
Over the course of their study, a number of other students became interested in what they were learning. The original group of three convinced their classmates that they could solve their school’s mold problem. From this starting point, Ms. Breslin (an Earth Force master educator) asked her students to deepen their understanding of the environmental factors that led to the growth of mold and the social, regulatory, and political structures that led to this particular environmental problem.
Once students understood the issue and the surrounding policy context, she asked them to create a plan to change the policies and practices that govern school safety in a way that would address the problem.
With this knowledge in hand, students met with people in positions of power (school administrators and city officials) to advocate for their solutions, a change in policies that regulate indoor air quality and a funding increase from the City of Alexandria to address mold remediation. When that process proved fruitless the students engaged their state Senator. They worked with him to draft a bill (based on a similar law in Delaware) that could be presented to the legislature during its next session.
When the time came for the legislative session the students presented their findings in front of a Senate committee and advocated to individual representatives for their solution. In the end the legislature passed the bill and it was signed into law by the Governor.