Step-by-step Approach to Creating an Asthma-friendly School

Asthma-friendly policies and practices aim to improve the overall air quality in and around the school. Having good indoor air quality requires a team approach to identify, prioritize, prevent, resolve, and monitor environmental health and safety issues.

  1. Bring together a team. Start by gathering a team. A team ensures that the right people are part of decisions about how to create an asthma-friendly school environment. A diverse team that includes a parent, a custodian or facilities manager, administrator, and a nurse is great — more will get accomplished if several people playing different roles are committed.
     
  2. Collect data via a “walk-through”. Data helps to understand what asthma triggers should be the focus. Conducting an environmental walk-through [link] of a school provides data on which areas of the school need improvement and what they are (mold, clutter, chemicals, or other asthma triggers).
     
  3. Identify problem areas. The results of your walk-through — what you answered “yes” to, and the frequency or duration of the problem — will demonstrate what kinds of potential asthma triggers exist,  and whether they are school-wide or systemic, or more isolated problems.

    MDPH’s Bureau of Environmental Health’s Indoor Air Quality Program (IAQP) can assist schools in assessing air quality through IAQ assessment. The IAQP conducts assessments of public buildings to evaluate the ventilation system, determine the potential for microbial growth, and identify and locate the point sources of environmental concerns. Through these assessments, the IAQP can provide technical assistance regarding indoor air quality, water damage, mold remediation and other related indoor air quality issues in buildings. An IAQ evaluation can be helpful in identifying and prioritizing building-related concerns. (Note: It is important to know that the IAQP does not enforce state housing or building codes, and is not responsible for building issues that are the jurisdiction of a municipal health department or board of health.) Click here for more information, including how to request an IAQ assessment of your school visit. 
     
  4. Prioritize actions. Once problem areas have been identified, form a group  who can put some asthma-friendly practices in place and inspire support in a new or enhanced policy. Now you need to make a plan of action and prioritize your list:
    • If you want to address several problem areas at once, take the environmental health and safety management approach [link]
    • If you have identified a specific area to address, such as pests, go to the appropriate policy and practice area, such as integrated pest management [link]
    Other considerations include:
    1. What areas have you made some progress in already, and could benefit from improved practices or creating a policy?
    2. What might be a very easy and manageable place to start? Is there a funding opportunity, or champion or group that could support a particular effort? 
  5. Create policies and/or practices that solve problems or prevent triggers. In each policy and practice area:
    • Use the example policies and policy guidance to help guide your own school or district policies — if setting policy is your goal.
    • Follow best practices to achieve a more asthma-friendly school environment, whether you implement policy or not.
    • Funding might be a barrier: No matter where are you starting from, it is very likely that you do not have any additional funding to devote to asthma-friendly policy or practice. You are not alone! A lack of funds, and/or a backlog of needed repairs, are common roadblocks to getting started. However, there are many things you can do to improve the school environment at little or no cost, or raise awareness and make the case for funding. 
  6. Monitor the environment. Meet as a team after pilot projects. Have the team come back together to assess what worked and what might need adjustment to make the practice easier or more effective. Share successes in order to expand these practices across the entire school.

Resources & Tools

Environmental Walk-through Checklists: A list of things to look for during a school walk-through; this tool includes space to jot down notes and observations, or visit the Bureau of Environmental Health’s The Massachusetts School Checklist for further information on conducting a school walk-through and a more in-depth Massachusetts-specific walk-through checklist.

School Indoor Air Quality Assessment Tool, Environmental Protection Agency: A mobile app that provides a “one-stop shop” for accessing guidance from EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, including strategies for addressing ventilation, cleaning and maintenance, and environmental asthma triggers. EPA indoor air quality assessment app overview: [link_Resource #8]

How to do a walkthrough: Creating asthma-friendly schools presentation: Simple PowerPoint slides with tips and prompts for what to look for and pay attention to during a walk-through: [link_Resource #9]

School Walk-through Video Series, Northwest Clean Air Agency: A series of videos that shows you how to conduct a successful school walk-through from the beginning to end, including how to get started and next steps.

Case study: Boston Healthy Schools Task Force: Community and school stakeholders promote asthma-friendly school environments [link_Resource #10]