Another bite of APPLES

November 30, 2016

As 14-year-old Daki Grant walked through Boston’s Community Academy of Science and Health school this past summer, documenting hazards that trigger asthma and other respiratory health problems, he suddenly realized that the work he was doing hit home. From a young age, the MassCOSH Peer Leader’s brother had suffered from a scarred lung – exposure to mold, pests, and other common building hazards exacerbated his condition – making it difficult for him to breathe, unable to speak, and often sending him to the hospital.

“It really put into perspective just how much air quality can affect your breathing and health,” Grant recalled.

Grant’s school environmental inspection was part of an initiative developed by MassCOSH’s Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W) program known as Asthma Prevention through Peer Leadership and Engagement in Schools (APPLES).

APPLES builds on MassCOSH’s Healthy Schools program, which engages workers with custodians, teachers, and administrators to improve conditions for those who work and learn in public schools. Over the school break, TL@W Peer Leaders put finishing touches on a youth-friendly healthy schools curriculum and workshop, drawing on input and resources from APPLES partners, including: the Boston Healthy Homes and Schools Collaborative, the Environmental Protection Agency, Boston Healthy Schools Taskforce, Girls Inc., Boston Public Schools, John Hancock MLK Fellows program, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Teachers’ Union, and the Boston Custodial Union (Local 1952).

“What was really great about this past summer was how much further our Peer Leaders took environmental health,” said MassCOSH Youth Coordinator Jenny Fernandez. “Besides efforts to reduce conditions that exacerbate symptoms of respiratory conditions, the youth were very interested in sustainability and zero waste in and outside of school.”

A summer tour of the Boston’s new Public School headquarters in the Bruce C. Bolling Building provided a perfect opportunity to hone their new skills.

“We went to Dudley Square to meet with the sustainability manager for all Boston Public Schools and we got to learn how the district is aiming to have a balance between economic, social, and environmental factors in [school environmental health] policy and decisions,” said TL@W Peer Leader Janiya Pinckney. “We also did a walkthrough of the new school district building to see what a truly green establishment was and how we could advocate for these buildings in the future.”

In October, TL@W is bringing APPLES to Brockton’s 4,000 student high school.
“Ten of our returning Peer Leaders will use their experience investigating asthma triggers to train and coach Brockton’s School environmental health club, giving TL@W an opportunity to extend their impact beyond Boston,” said Fernandez. “We are also working on improving indoor air quality, while also lessening the schools environmental impact, which benefits everyone.”

Reflecting on her 29 years with MassCOSH, Graham is delighted with just how well TL@W has integrated itself into school advocacy.

“Over the last dozen years, our healthy schools initiative has worked on behalf of students who may be affected by poor environmental health conditions, but we previously never engaged them directly in taking their own actions to improve these conditions,” said Graham. ”Involving the teens as stakeholders for safe and healthy schools brings new voices to the table as they work to change their school building conditions.”