Using a Physical Education Environmental Survey to Identify Areas of Concern and Improve Conditions

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School environmental conditions can impact learning in physical educational classes. Clear air, freedom from excessive noise, adequate indoor and outdoor space, sufficient storage, properly functioning heating and ventilation systems, adequate lighting systems, proper indoor and outdoor drainage systems, and adequate outdoor and indoor surfaces are essential for a safe environment that is conducive to learning. Unfortunately, not all schools have adequate physical education facilities. Factors may include the age of the school facilities, geographical location of schools, physical space limitations, or insufficient financial resources.

It is important to control environmental health hazards, not only to promote a conducive school learning environment, but to also reduce associated health risks. For example, exposure to pollutants such as sulfates and particulates from aging building materials increase the incidence of morbidity and premature mortality (Gauderman et al., 2000). Close proximity to roadways with high truck traffic density tends to result in adverse health effects on the respiratory system of teachers and children (Houston, Ong, Wu, & Winer, 2006; Ciccone et al., 1998). Green, Smorodinsky, Kim, McLaughlin, & Ostro (2004) found that many teachers and children in California who were regularly exposed to elevated levels of traffic-related emissions at school had poor respiratory health. Since the majority of the students were economically disadvantaged and non-white, these findings have raised concerns about environmental inequities affecting Latinos in California (Pastor, Sadd, & Morello-Frosch, 2004). Excessive background noise and air pollution has been shown to lower the achievement and educational performance of students (Korenstein & Piazza, 2002; Raven, 2002; Knecht, Nelson, Whitelaw, & Feth, 2002).

In many schools, physical education is the school subject most affected by air and noise pollution because classes are often conducted outside and, consequently, closer to some or all of the primary environmental pollutants. When aerobic activities are performed in environments polluted with carbon monoxide, there is often a significant reduction in performance levels (Singh, 1988; Rofen, 1980). Consequently, it is not advisable to jog, run, train, or exercise at schools located near highways, particularly at times of peak hour traffic flow.

Traffic and vehicle exhaust are not the only pollution problems in the schools. Students in schools near refineries and factories have to stay indoors on certain days because the odors are so intense (Johnson, 2004). Power plants release both pollutants and large amounts of steam into the air. This process is extremely noisy and can be distracting to the surrounding community. Pesticide spraying on nearby fields or farmland and noise pollution from airplanes taking-off and landing are additional deterrents to the school-learning environment.

Indoor physical education classes may also be affected by environmental factors. Students exercising indoors may be exposed to unclean air and may have to deal with mold and inefficient ventilation systems. A study by Villaire (2002) focused on the dangers of mold, pesticides, exhaust, and radon. In it, he described specific ways to promote better indoor air quality in schools. Indoor air pollutants may also result from small pools of water in the heating/ventilation/air/conditioning system. The pollutants are believed to contribute to the incidence of asthma among teachers and students (Czubaj, 2002).

The physical education environment may also be negatively impacted by lack of facilities and inadequate field space. Some schools do not have gymnasiums, sufficient locker rooms, shower facilities, or indoor apparatus/classrooms. Many do not have proper storage space for physical education equipment. Many schools are old and in dire need of repairs and remodeling. …