Safe haven for sensitive students
by Avis Degaust
UPdate Winter 2001

     Nova Scotia's first Environmentally Controlled Opportunity (ECO) classroom opened this fall in the newly built Lockview High school located in Fall River.  The intent of creating an ECO  classroom is to provide an opportunity for environmentally sensitive students to attend school in a safe environment which protects their health and enables them to learn to their full potential.  It will be used by students who are currently unable to attend school and by those who are experiencing difficulty coping with irritants in their school environment, either on a regular basis or during seasonal stressors such as pollen and mould.  

     The first ECO classrooms were built in the Waterloo School District in Ontario in 1985 for sensitive students who were being home schooled.  Within months of attending these classrooms, students made significant improvements in their attendance, academic performance, behaviour, activity levels, and self esteem.   Many of the part-time students in the ECO classroom were able to be integrated back into the regular classroom with much success.

     Children with environmental sensitivities can face a variety of learning, behavioural, and physical problems.  These problems may show up as difficulty concentrating and problem solving, short term memory loss, irritability, hyper-activity, aggression and mood swings.   Physical symptoms may show up as headaches, muscle aches, breathing problems, itchy and watery nose  and eyes, intestinal problems, fatigue, coughing, dark circles under eyes and skin problems (eczema, rashes and hives).

     Children with environmental sensitivities may experience any number of these symptoms depending upon the irritant in their environment.  It is easy to see why these children need a safe learning environment to achieve their full educational potential.

     ECO classrooms are built and operated using the safest materials and procedures possible.  Attention is paid to selecting safe flooring, wall coverings, lighting, window coverings, furnishings, educational materials, and cleaning products.  ECO classrooms have their own ventilation systems which are usually 100% filtered fresh air.  Every effort is made to ensure that the classroom is as free of environmental pollutants as possible.

     Although the operational details for the Fall River ECO classroom have yet to be finalized, a teacher has been hired.  Any student in grades 9 - 12 in the Halifax Regional School District who is experiencing difficulties related to indoor environmental irritants in their school is eligible for schooling in this classroom.

     The ECO classroom developed through the cooperative efforts of Citizens for a Safe Learning Environment (CASLE), the NS Department of Education, and planners and builders of Lockwood High.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for CASLE to participate in making this ECO classroom a reality.  We are sincerely grateful to the many individuals (especially Margie MacNeil) who worked towards creating this safe haven for our children.

For More information regarding the ECO classroom contact Avis Degaust, Education Director for CASLE, at 861-1851