Asthma Free School Zone

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Real World Foundation
City & State:
New York, 
North Carolina
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The AFSZ works to keep kids in school by improving air quality and, in turn, reducing asthma-related illness and absenteeism. From Monday to Friday, 8 to 4, schools hold an extraordinary concentration of children with extraordinary vulnerability to pollution. Besides pushing for public policy, the AFSZ posts health-protective signage, trains school and community members about environment and health, and helps schools take steps to become safer and healthier learning places for children.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

The Asthma Free School Zone (AFSZ) is a school-based program that aims to keep children in school by improving the air quality at school. The AFSZ serves nearly 100 schools in the poorest, most environmentally-challenged neighborhoods of New York City, providing protective street signs for school zones, environmental assessment tools, and–believing that education is key to a better world–environmental health information and trainings for school and community members. The AFSZ also works with local public leaders to propose and guide legislation related to school health and safety. With a full-time staff of four, AFSZ has a reach and influence that belies its small size and do-it-yourself operation.Every time that we conduct a health education session, we hear unsettling stories. A teacher tells of a student who suffered an asthma attack climbing the four flights of stairs to the top floor of the school. Community members describe the soot building up in their homes or the smell of vehicle exhaust coming in through their windows. Parents tell us that their children have been hospitalized multiple times a year because of trouble breathing. Over a school year, one or two will die. New Yorkers know that environment and health go hand-in-hand. In some neighborhoods, where traffic is high and environmental contaminants pose a major risk, 25% of children suffer from asthma. Rather than accepting these statistics as a sad fact of city life, AFSZ offers an innovative program that empowers urban schools and families to make meaningful changes in their environment, improve air quality, and protect every child’s right to reach fullest potential. Between 2006 and today, thanks to the Microsoft Office suite of applications, AFSZ has provided year-round environmental health information to more than 10,000 individuals. After every training session, people leave with a new and empowered understanding of environmental health issues that enables them to make important changes in their own lives and within their communities. They also take away a handful of print materials that teach about managing an asthma attack, reducing asthma triggers, advocating for policy change, or creating chemical-free green cleaning products with everyday household ingredients. Of all the applications in the Microsoft Office suite, we use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access on a daily basis. We write and layout the majority of our documents in Microsoft Office Word whose features allow us to produce materials with both flexibility and focus. We can translate our original materials into languages that parents can best understand because of the extensive language choices of Microsoft Office Word. The inclusion of Chinese characters makes it possible for us to create print materials for families in Lower Manhattan, where many residents speak Mandarin and Cantonese and the incidence of asthma symptoms, particularly since 9/11, is high. It is as easy to create new documents in Word as to update earlier versions when the need arises. For us, this may be as simple as sharing advice about asthma management that we hear parents give to one another, or it can be as significant as creating a newsletter to inform principals about a new traffic law affecting the school zone. The ability to track changes allows reliable and efficient editing among staff members.Because many of the parents and family members we serve do not have Internet access, we need to create educational materials that can be photocopied and distributed in a hand-out format. Since Microsoft Office Word is a universal program, School Zone News, our monthly newsletter, can be shared with school administrators and staff, giving them the opportunity to access and replicate it as needed. Finally, given that some parent and family members are low-literacy or ESL readers, we need to design materials that are simple, streamlined, and formatted for easy reading; for that, the layout functions of Microsoft Office Word works well.Understanding that people learn in different ways, we use Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations to enrich the trainings we give to parents and school staff. PowerPoint allows us to illustrate how asthma affects the body and to teach visually what different triggers can turn on a person’s asthma. When we can feel more confident that we are reaching all our learners, we can feel more confident of their ability to retain the information we provide. Within our office, Microsoft programs keep us organized and able to manage our relationships and responsibilities to all of our partners. In Excel, we document the who-what-when-and-where of the individuals we’ve reached. Our database, made in Microsoft Office Access, contains detailed profiles about our schools, including descriptions of local environmental hazards, school-wide health protocol and schedules for upcoming health education sessions. Because of the information contained in this database, we are able to tailor and track our program to meet individual needs of each school. While there is always more to do, we have shared in many success stories. Hundreds of NYC citizens have gathered to demand cleaner air in their neighborhoods. School administrators have implemented protocols for managing students with asthma and sponsored contests to raise awareness of the importance of cleaner air. Many schools have reduced unnecessary air pollution outside their schools by restricting smoking and vehicle idling. While much credit goes to the dedication of parents, families and school staff, we are proud to be recognized as a leader in the movement to make clean air and better health a priority. Using grassroots advocacy, AFSZ led the charge to reduce engine idling in school zones. After untold numbers of leaflets, flyers and posters, we were handed the pen that Mayor Bloomberg used to sign the recent one-minute school zone idling law. The Asthma Free School Zone will continue to use Microsoft Office products to spread the word and to keep the momentum going.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery
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Supporting Work Files