Life in an ECO classroom - 100% better
by Avis Degaust
UPdate Summer 2002

Krista Manuel and Lindsay Shano are two high school students who attend Nova Scotia's first Environmentally Controlled Opportunity (ECO) classroom. This special classroom, which opened last year is located in Lockview High, Fall River. It provides environmentally sensitive students an opportunity to attend school in a safe, healthy classroom environment.

Krista, a grade eleven student, is now in her second year.  "The ECO classroom has helped me 100%. In junior high it was hard to attend. I missed a lot of time, my marks went down and I found it difficult to catch up." She describes this year as great. "My health and attendance have improved and overall my marks have been really good," she says with a smile.

Lindsay, a grade ten student is finishing her first year in the ECO classroom. She describes her struggle with health symptoms, which started in grade six. "I missed a lot of time because of headaches and other symptoms, and iyear I'm attending school more than I ever did, my health is much better and my marks have gone up."

Before the ECO classroom existed, both girls were unable to attend school
on a regular basis because a normal class environment made them physically
sick. When they did attend, irritants in the environment made concentration
on their schoolwork difficult.

Krista and Lindsay interact with their subject teachers on a daily basis for course content and evaluation. The majority of their time is spent working on their studies with supervision from their classroom teacher, Ms. Meg McKenzie. Krista describes the daily environment as being, "very clean, very fresh and very healthy. It is easy for me to concentrate, I am able to work well and independently and I want to do my work."

One of the goals of the  ECO classroom is to integrate students back into the regular classroom setting gradually as health permits. Students can be full-time.  Both Lindsay and Krista have been doing so well this year, that recently they have been able to attempt integration into the regular classroom.

Krista has joined her Oceanography classmates and Lindsay is trying to attend all of her four credits. One great feature of the ECO classroom is the flexibility to move in and out of the room when necessary. When students experience symptoms from environmental pollutants or irritants they can return to the ECO classroom until symptoms disappear. "When I'm attending the regular classroom and my headaches return I make a decision on what to do," explains Lindsay.  Results from the ECO classroom indicate not only improvements in student's health, attendance, and academic performance but also an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem.

A few drawbacks of life in an ECO classroom are the lack of interaction with other students and not being able to join school activities, clubs, and in class and what the teacher has to say and it's unfortunate that I can't attend school functions, but I'm glad to see and spend time with my friends outside at lunch time." The girls explain that web cam technology is currently being installed to enable them to see and hear what's going on in other classrooms and that this technology can also be used to tune in from home.

When asked what they liked best about the ECO classroom,  Lindsay responded, "I like this school and my teachers. The best part is knowing that I don't have to go home every time I'm sick. I can socialize with my friends, and come back to the ECO classroom when I need to." Krista added, "I'm thankful that I'm able to attend this ECO classroom. I really enjoy this school. I love the staff and Ms. McKenzie is a devoted and awesome teacher. It's wonderful to know this room is here and will be here for others when they are ill. If it wasn't for this clashome schooled. I'm happy that I'll be able to graduate with my friends. This room is 100%!"

Krista and Linsay wish that others understood more about how environmental
sensitivities affect people's health and learning.  They say there are "a huge amount of students that don't understand, don't care or don't recognize the problem, especially regarding the use of fragrances." They also hope to have more classmates in the future and they want everyone to know the Lockview High School ECO classroom is great place to be.  (Any Halifax Regional School Board student in grade 9-12 experiencing difficulty with environmental sensitivities in their school is eligible to attend this classroom.)

Avis Degaust is the Education Director for Citizens for a Safe Learning
Environment (CASLE). She can be contacted at 902-861-1851.