Many educational researchers have advocated for addressing health risk behavior as a key approach to closing academic achievement gaps
For the past decade, many educational researchers have advocated for addressing health risk behaviors and related disparities as a key approach to closing academic achievement gaps among youths. According to 2017 research from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), there is a direct relationship between student’s academic achievement and health-related behaviors. Young people spend a majority of their time in various educational environments, and these spaces play a crucial role in their psychological, physical and social development.
The recent launch of the WELL v2™ pilot opens doors for more diverse types of projects, making it easier than ever to create healthy educational spaces. Many important aspects of the WELL Building Standard™ have evidence-based applications that could transform healthy learning environments and improve the wellness and well-being of its students, faculties and supporting staff members. This article provides specific examples of issues in schools that can be addressed by applying WELL features to those spaces, such as promoting physical fitness, providing mental health support and education, reducing air and noise pollution, and engaging teachers and community members. Through these interventions, educational spaces can create an environment that optimizes student well-being and academic performance, allowing them to reach their full potential.
Movement: Improving Student Achievement in Test Scores, Cognitive Abilities, and Physical Fitness
An extensive study in the U.S. has revealed that students with higher grades are more likely to engage in physical activity more frequently and play on at least one sports team, yet only 17.1% of US high school students meet current recommendations for physical activities both inside and outside the classroom.
The importance of students’ physical activity to their academic performance cannot be understated. Physical activity affects brain development in important areas that control learning and memory, attention, and coping abilities. WELL v2 helps to address this issue through strategies that bring tangible impact in promoting students to be active, both individually and collectively as part of a bigger school community.
Movement features promote active living and discourage sedentary behaviors, implemented through environmental design strategies, programs, and policies:
V01: Active Buildings and Communities, V06: Physical Activity Opportunities and V08: Physical Activity Spaces and Equipment
Schools have the opportunity to incorporate several Movement features throughout their campuses and culture. For example, a school or university can encourage healthy practices by implementing a central staircase, while also promoting social interaction between students of different classes and age groups. Pre-K and lower schools can incorporate playgrounds and sports fields in highly visible areas to promote activity outdoors. Educational institutions can also implement exercise programming led by qualified faculty or professionals instructors.
Mind: Reducing Delinquency Rates and Substance-related Risks through Positive Mental Well-Being
Although recent studies suggest that depression will be the second leading cause of disability in the world by the year 2020, schools and communities have the opportunity to provide mental health education and frameworks in which students can thrive. Community engagement can play a critical role in preventing substance abuse, delinquency, and other behavioral issues. Other studies have shown that students in classrooms with access to green views through their windows were observed to have important health benefits, stress reduction and greater attentional focus as compared to students in classrooms with no windows or views looking out onto other building facades.
Schools have the opportunity to positively impact students’ mental health, physical health and academic performance through educational materials and by incorporating natural elements into the space. WELL v2 provides an improved, more comprehensive approach to combat some of these issues through mental health support and education, as well as increased access to nature.
Mind features promote mental health through policy, program and design strategies which address diverse factors that can influence an individual’s cognitive and emotional well-being.
M01: Mental Health Promotion, M05: Stress Support and M14: Substance Use Education and Services
Educational institutions can offer resources that address mental health literacy, such as information strategies for regular self-care practices, positive coping skills and connecting with local mental health organizations through monthly programs and seminars. They can also promote educational resources on management of personal substance abuse and appropriately responding to struggling peers.
M02: Access to Nature
Working with architects and designers, educational institutions can provide direct access to nature and biophilic design. Classrooms or communal spaces that have direct access to sunlight, green walls, natural materials or smart space design may provide better outcomes for students.
Air and Sound Quality: ROI Opportunities on Presenteeism and Absenteeism Rates
A survey done by the EPA suggests that more than 40,000 schools across the U.S. - nearly half of which are public schools - have poor indoor air quality (IAQ). They further found that as of 2016, one in every 13 children suffered from asthma, which is the leading cause of school absenteeism. Chronic exposure to indoor air pollution, mold and pesticides can converge to become a major factor in developing asthma, coughing, eye irritation, headaches and severe allergic reactions.
Beyond IAQ, the impact of acoustics and exterior noise pollution on students’ health and academic success has been largely overlooked. A Harvard study demonstrated that poor acoustics have both auditory and non-auditory effects - hearing loss, annoyance, sleep disturbance, stress, hypertension and lower academic performance.
The Air features in WELL v2 provide an improved, comprehensive approach to address problems of IAQ and its effects on student health. The Sound feature also addresses noise pollution by ensuring that indoor spaces are equipped with acoustics that support the learning environment and influence the number of days missed at school.
Air features support high levels of indoor air quality (IAQ) through diverse strategies that eliminates or reduces source through active and passive building design.
A05: Enhanced Air Quality, A07: Operable Windows and A08: Air Quality Education
Educational institutions should aim for minimum thresholds for harmful particulate matter and organic or inorganic contaminants often found in high concentration across different school environments. Providing simple architectural elements, such as operable windows in classrooms, can further provide access to fresh air. Another key strategy is for schools and colleges to provide educational seminars that promote indoor air improvement methods and IAQ education.
Sound Features bolster occupant health and well-being through mitigation of acoustical comfort parameters.
S01: Sound Mapping & S03: Sound Barriers
Schools and colleges can identify multiple sound zones throughout the building to ensure student and faculty comfort for a variety of activity types. For example, quiet zones such as traditional library and study spaces should be intended for focused work, wellness, rest and privacy. Conversely, mixed zones allow medium noise levels, which serves well for seminar rooms, training rooms, laboratories, student commons and multi-purpose spaces.
Teacher Satisfaction: Fostering Sense of Ownership through Emphasis on the Role of Healthy Mind and Community
Teachers and support staff at an educational institution also play an essential role in shaping positive learning experience. The school is their workplace, where each teacher needs the proper conditions to prepare lessons, instruct and mentor students. Many of these needs are not being met, and institutions that don’t support teachers’ needs or provide an organizational culture that promotes collaboration will ultimately encounter teacher isolation and job dissatisfaction.
Educational institutions that foster cross-collaboration, innovation and a strong sense of ownership ensure higher retention rates, as well as attracting talent to join the institution. It also boosts brand equity, thus promoting leadership rankings and motivating employees to work productively and contribute to their professional environment. WELL v2 introduces a diverse set of interventions that have a large potential impact, and these values become the driving force behind the new Community concept.
Community aims to support access to essential healthcare, workplace health promotion and establish inclusive, integrated community through social equity, civic engagement and accessible design.
C02: Integrative Design, C05: Health Services and Benefits, and C16:Community Access and Engagement
By providing teachers with community spaces - both indoor and outdoor - schools promote a restorative environment and encourage relief from mental fatigue, thereby improving education quality delivered to students. The Integrative Design feature calls for a holistic approach to wellness that allows the entire institution - from the administration, faculties, facilities managers, to the students and their parents- to provide collaborative input to transform the space to fit the needs of the community.
The dynamic opportunities offered by WELL v2 give educational institutions across the globe a chance to create learning environments in which both students and faculties can excel, thrive, grow, collaborate and innovate. Investing in healthier school buildings contributes to positive outcomes in our collective future- institutions must evolve so that healthy schools are the industry-wide norm and not simply an add-on privilege.
 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.0014.TO, Population ages 0-14, total.
 https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372, National Center for Educational Statistics.
 https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf, Center for Disease Prevention & Control, The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance
Vigo D, Thornicroft G, Atun R. Estimating the true global burden of mental illness. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2016;3(2):171-178. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00505-2.
 https://schools.forhealth.org/Harvard.Schools_For_Health.Foundations_for_Student_Success.pdf, Harvard Schools For Health: Foundation for Success.
http://www.centerforgreenschools.org/sites/default/files/resource-files/McGrawHill_ImpactOnHealth.pdf - Center for Green Schools, A Call for Research
 https://thejournal.com/articles/2018/05/22/high-teacher-stress-leads-to-poorer-student-outcomes.aspx , High Teacher Stress Leads to Poorer Student Outcomes; published May 22, 2018.
 Banerjee et al. Teacher Job Satisfaction and Student Achievement: The Roles of Teacher Professional Community and Teacher Collaboration in Schools. Feb 2017. University of Chicago Press.