'Green Squad' Website Lets Kids Investigate Everyday Health and Environment Hazards in Their Schools

New Interactive Website Will Help Students Recognize Common Environmental Problems Where They Study and Play

NEW YORK (October 9, 2002) -- Diesel exhaust from school buses. Polluted indoor air. Pesticides sprayed on school playing fields. Lead paint in stairwells. Dripping sinks and running toilets in school bathrooms. Asthma-exacerbating mold on classroom ceilings. These and a range of other health and environmental hazards are the subject of a new website for children. "The Green Squad," from the Natural Resources Defense Council in collaboration with the Healthy Schools Network, helps kids learn to spot and avoid, and even help fix, environmental and health problems in their own schools.

Scores of products used in schools, as well as a number of common school practices, pose dangers to kids' health and to the environment. The Green Squad site addresses these issues head-on, raising children's environmental awareness and giving them the skills they need to look out for and identify health and environmental problems in their schools.

The site, which is also available in Spanish, is designed primarily for 5th through 8th graders, but also offers information for younger and older students, as well as for their parents and teachers. The Green Squad's tip sheets and various other resources offer kids useful ideas on what they can do to help improve their schools' environment.

"Kids are passionate about environmental issues," says Rita Barol, NRDC's website director, "and we hope to give them tools to direct that passion toward solving environmental problems they encounter on a daily basis." Says NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon, "The site tries to do three things: help kids avoid hazards so they can be safe and healthy, teach them to think about the environmental consequences of the choices they make, and empower them by showing them how to change environmental policies of the largest societal institution in their lives -- their school."

"First and foremost the site will educate students," says Claire Barnett, executive director of the Healthy Schools Network. "We also know that the information and guidance it offers can have a direct effect on their health and learning. Too many schools in too many communities expose children to health hazards on a daily basis. By teaching kids -- and their parents and teachers -- to identify problems, we'll help them to be safer and healthier."

With a highly interactive interface and the look and feel of an animated computer game, "The Green Squad" website is designed to be kid-friendly. After pointing their browsers to http://www.nrdc.org/greensquad, users are greeted by four animated kids in baggy pants, who lead them on an environmental tour of a typical school building. Children are invited to search for environmental problems and plusses in each room. Along the way, they have additional help from an "Envir-O-Meter" at the bottom of the screen -- a sort of environment-sensitive Geiger counter that registers high readings when a user passes the computer mouse pointer over an environmental problem in the room.

When kids click on a problem, they can read a description of the relevant issue and then proceed to tips about how the problem might be fixed, and what kids can do to help. A virtual library compiling fact sheets and resources on the issues is also available on the site. The library includes extensive links to other online resources, including the Healthy Schools Network's Kids' Page.

Offline, kids can apply what they learn on the site to their own schools, using a printable progress report to track their progress learning about and checking for health and environment problems at school. A final score based on the number of fact sheets they have read in the library and the items they have investigated in the schoolrooms determines their rank as Green Squad investigators.

Finally, The Green Squad's "Parent-Teacher Room" provides teachers and parents with links to other sites, in-depth overviews of health and environmental issues in schools, and advice on making schools greener and safer, often at low cost or even no cost.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Healthy Schools Network, Inc. (HSN) is an environmental health research, information, and advocacy organization dedicated to assuring every child an environmentally healthy school. Its award-winning Healthy Schools/Healthy Kids Clearinghouse offers guides and assistance to help parents and schools improve facility conditions.