Commitment to Environmental Health and Well-Being
“The health of children and the health of the earth are inseparable.”--Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
Slate School is proud to be one of the most environmentally friendly schools in the country. We are part of a healthy building movement that makes human wellness its first priority, while also ensuring that our construction materials have no negative impact on the environment. Our approach to sustainability is based on the idea that healthy buildings, healthy children, and a healthy earth are all interdependent. As a nature-based school, we feel a particular calling to protect the environment around us and treat the earth as gently as we treat our students.
“Our primary mission for Slate School was to create a healthy environment for learning,” says Paolo Campos, associate principal architect at Patriquin Architects in New Haven. “While this mission does pull in many tenets of the broader sustainable design and construction movement—for example, energy and water efficiency, or the use of renewable materials and resources—our focus was really on the physical well-being of the students and teachers.”
Slate’s six buildings are constructed of the highest quality environmentally focused materials. The school has been designed to meet the rigorous certification standards of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most widely used ratings system for green buildings. Only about 2,000 K-12 schools in the country—and only a handful in Connecticut—are currently LEED-certified.
Yet Slate School goes beyond LEED requirements, including water filtration and the use of non-toxic products. We are very proud of the fact that our building materials are “Red List Free,” meaning they contain none of the chemicals regularly used in construction—formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, PCBS, mercury, phthalates, among many others—that are known to pose serious health and environmental concerns. We have also worked hard to ensure that each of the products used in the school has a Declare label, which is a rigorous and transparent "nutrition label for products" by the International Living Future Institute. Slate School is one of only a handful of schools in the country which meet these rigorous environmental standards.
Schools created with the health of children as their first priority have been shown to improve students’ creativity, concentration, and ability to learn. “Healthy schools reduce rates of illness and absenteeism,” says Paolo. “Students and teachers in such buildings miss fewer school days due to sickness, which is tied to better academic achievement. Also, the healthier environment reduces low-level stressors that improve focus, energy, and retention among both students and teachers.”
It’s not easy being green. But at Slate School, we believe it is essential to learning and to caring for the whole child's wellbeing. A public health professional and educator, Jennifer Staple Clark, a founder of Slate School, shares that "the priority and vision from the onset has been to ensure that our students have a healthy, inspiring space for their joyful learning. Slate School's architects, landscape architects, engineers, builders, and other consultants have melded a beautiful design with rigorous environmental standards to ensure a healthy campus for our students and faculty." Here are some of the ways that we have made our buildings both healthy and sustainable:
- Nontoxic Materials: Did you know that typical construction materials sold today commonly contain formaldehyde, VOCs, lead, phthalates, and arsenic? Slate School is built with none of these--or any other known toxins. We have gone above and beyond to seek out products that wear a Declare label for everything from our gypsum board, insulation, and flooring to our window shades and paint. In fact, only three paint products on the market have Declare certification—and Slate School is using one of them.
- No PVC or Vinyl: PVC and vinyl are common in school supplies, ranging from binders to plastic coverings. They are unique among plastics because they contain dangerous chemical additives, such as phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to children’s health. Slate School contains no PVC or vinyl in any of its furnishings, school supplies, or inside the buildings.
- Healthy Air: Improving air quality is an important priority in the healthy building movement. One in 10 children today have asthma, and the alarming rise of asthma rates among children has been linked to chemicals in building materials. Additionally, in accordance with the American Lung Association’s recommendations, Slate School maintains a fragrance-free environment to promote a safe and healthy place to work and to learn. Slate School expects that staff and students remain free of scented products. At Slate School, we are free of toxic chemicals and indoor air allergens (fragrance, mold, dust, etc.) that are known to contribute to asthma.
- Filtered Water: We have a robust water filtration system in all of our buildings, which ensures that the drinking water is free of additives and contaminants, such as lead or chlorine.
- Natural Lighting: Slate School uses natural daylight as much as possible for illumination in the learning and communal spaces. All indoor lighting mimics the natural light of the sun. In the morning, the light fixtures emit light that is warmer in tone, with reds and yellows, just like morning light. Around noon, the light turns to cooler tones of white and blue. As the afternoon goes on, it slowly shifts back to warmer tones. This use of natural and Circadian lighting reduces our use of energy, keeps students more closely connected to nature’s rhythms, and actually improves attentiveness.
Any building is only as healthy as the furnishings and supplies that are used inside it. We are proud to say that we achieve 100% of the Eco-Healthy Child Care certification standards by the Environmental Children's Health Network, which covers quality standards for the property, furniture, learning resources, and nontoxic cleaning supplies. From furniture to toys to cleaning supplies, we use only the most natural products available. Here are some of our favorites:
- Furniture From Trees: The furniture at Slate School is all natural wood. Period.
- Crayon from Bees: Typical crayons contain paraffin and petroleum products. We use Filana crayons, which are made with natural organic beeswax.
- Sustainable Markers: Our whiteboard markers by EcoSmart are refillable, have nontoxic ink, and do not contain chemicals such as xylene and toluene, which are common in other whiteboard markers.
- No Lead Anywhere: Lead is hidden in many common consumer products, including pottery, tiles, clay, gardening supplies, and children's toys. The CDC has concluded that childhood exposure to lead impacts a child's IQ, academic achievement, and behavior. Just as we ensure that there is no lead in the construction materials, we ensure that there is no lead in our toys, classroom and art materials, and gardening supplies. Slate School's classrooms are filled with natural wooden toys, wooden blocks, peg people, play silks, beach rocks, and a variety of natural loose parts.
- Nontoxic Cleaning Supplies: We use only natural products for cleaning, both inside and outside. Also, to avoid tracking debris, toxins, and pesticides from elsewhere to the floor where children play, both faculty and students will have indoor shoes that are kept at school and worn in the classrooms.
- Healthy, Organic Food: Slate School occasionally provides snacks, which are mostly derived from our organic garden. All food provided by the school is plant-based and certified organic.
We apply the same high quality standards outside of our buildings as we do inside. In fact, only about one-tenth of Slate School’s lush 24-acre campus has been touched by construction. Our mission to create a healthy environment for our students extends to every one of those 24 acres. Here’s how:
- No Pesticides: Our campus is free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Our lush grounds—including an organic garden, a grove of apple trees, and many indigenous trees, plants, and shrubs—are tended to regularly using all-natural materials.
- Healthy Playgrounds: Our playscapes are made of untreated cedar with stainless steel hardware. The woodchips are untreated virgin wood designed for playgrounds, and we independently tested it to confirm that it is free of lead and arsenic.
- Safe Garden Hoses: Most garden hoses are made of PVC, which leeches lead into the water. Our garden hoses, which are NSF and FDA certified for safe drinking water, have stainless steel fittings and contain no PVC, lead, BPA, phthalates, or other toxic chemicals.
At Slate School, we believe in the whole child. We consider it our responsibility to protect the health of every student entrusted to our care: their physical health, their brain health, their emotional health. And we are convinced that a deep connection to the environment is essential to that health. “An environmentally friendly school sets a tone of stewardship, respect, and understanding for how a building and its occupants can impact the world around them in a positive way,” says Paolo. We feel sure that our approach to sustainability, which puts the health of our students first, is not just the right thing to do for our children. It’s the right thing to do for our planet.