Five Tips for Holding on to That Back-to-School Shine

Isn’t the first day of school the best? The year ahead holds the promise of breakthrough learning, the new and returning students are excited and the floors, desks and lockers sparkle after their summer scrub-down. With all the work you’ve put into deep-cleaning your schools for the coming year, what’s your plan to keep it that way? Your thorough summer cleaning set the stage for a banner year, but let’s face it, buildings that serve hundreds, even thousands, of children every day take commitment to keep clean and germ-free K-12 school enrollment continues to increase — meaning more traffic and activity packed into the same square footage.

Here are top five tips for sustaining a clean, healthy learning environment and your pristine deep-clean — plus some extra credit! Each of our school-zone-defense strategies comes paired with an easy way to help students recognize how they can cut down on cross-contamination.  

1. Entryways

Let’s begin at the beginning. You can’t control where all those feet are tracking grime in from — but you can put up a first line of defense. Special entryway matting that traps material and a recurring schedule of cleaning entryways will deny countless unknown substances from entering into your building.

A clean entryway also helps define the school environment as kids enter: here there be nice, clean floors. Kids will pick up on that signal and maybe wipe a little mud off those far-ranging soles. If that sounds too hopeful, consider this: a 2009 study found simply the smell of cleanliness (in this case, a whiff of Windex) was enough to significantly influence test subjects’ moral sense — even though participants didn’t notice the scent or that their mood was affected by it. 

2. The Bathroom’s Overlooked Touch Points

Diagnosing bathrooms as a trouble spot doesn’t take an “A” in science. That’s why well-trained custodians commit to best practices like separate cleaning supplies for bathrooms and proper dwell times for sanitizers. But there are plenty of surfaces that can get overlooked, like the door handle — a place a lot of hands touch, whether they’ve been washed or not. Speaking of a good wash — faucet handles are a critical touch point that need recurring special attention.

Custodians should use approved, non-harmful cleaning agents on places that student hands often touch — like the buttons on soap dispensers. While reminding kids they should wash their hands can’t hurt (two times through happy birthday) it’s also a great idea to encourage students not to use their cell phones in the bathroom, because cell phones harbor germs just like any other touch point, and nobody likes to run their phone under the sink for two happy birthdays.  

3. Desks

Experiments often use the count of the bacteria found on a toilet seat as a baseline. That a computer keyboard loses in this comparison (badly) is no surprise to professionals that know toilet seats are regularly cleaned while keyboards — well, when was the last time you cleaned your keyboard? Student’s classroom desks are at the same risk without a proper schedule of routine cleaning, especially those shared by multiple students in the same day. How dirty can a simple platform for papers and pencils get? Well, University of Arizona environmental microbiologist Charles Gerba found classroom desks carried 400 times the bacteria usually found on a toilet seat.

Speaking of spaces students share — how many different floors does an average backpack land on in a week? One way to cut down on cross-contamination from lockers, buses and cafeterias is to encourage kids to avoid putting backpacks on desks and tables, especially a table where their friends will be eating lunch.

4. The Air

The one thing that touches every object in your school is the air. Keep contaminants from taking flight with a regular focus on green cleaning techniques and tools like microfiber mops (tests found 21.9 percent higher reductions in bacteria versus traditional methods) and vacuums with good particle filtration. But all that work can be spoiled by a heating and cooling system that’s not properly attended to. Good preventative maintenance goes beyond filter changes, which are important, but also makes sure that total indoor air quality is on point — for instance, improper humidity levels tilt things in favor of the flu virus.Back-to-school season quickly ushers in flu season, so sanitizing school surfaces and touch points on schedule is key, but kids can help in the simplest way — by staying home when sick. If additional authority helps (why wouldn’t it?) the CDC recommends that kids stay home from school at least 24 hours after a fever is gone. Remind students that staying home means passing less germs to their friends — a favor they’re sure to appreciate the next time their friends catch a bug.

5. Everywhere

This tip is less about the place — and more about the plan. Imagine there’s one room in your school that doesn’t get regularly cleaned (not the cafeteria, that’s gross). The rest of the school is microscopically picture perfect, until the kids go into that room — and then go all over the school. Without a thorough and informed cleaning plan in place, any spot in your school could be like that room. Controlling easy-to-spot problem areas is part of a repeatable action plan, but completeness and efficiency are key. Optimal levels of cleanliness depend on an assessment of each unique facility and the time needed for effective cleaning when students (and staff and special events) aren’t present.

Study after study shows that each and every aspect of a school environment impacts learning. It’s going to be awhile until the next chance for another summer deep clean of your school, but commitment to professional best practices in sustainable cleaning means a healthy space for everyone. It’s a lot of work, but there’s help to be had: students impressed by a clean, safe environment can take pride in helping keep it that way.

About the Author

Andrew Canicatti serves as the northeast regional vice president of Education for ABM. He brings over 30 years of experience in the facility solutions industry. Andrew has worked extensively with educational institutions, including direct oversite of the New York City Department of Education portfolio, as well as serving four years at the Fashion Institute of Technology as the senior director of Facilities.

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