Empowered STEM is a project of Earth Force
April 23, 2020

Students Advocate For Indoor Air Quality

Students for a Better Tomorrow

When Mary Breslin’s seventh-grade science class at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia, met for the first time in fall 2018, several students noticed something strange: a mushroom was growing out from underneath the baseboard in their classroom. No one in the class, including Ms. Breslin, had ever seen a mushroom growing out of a wall before. While the project initially interested three students, over the course of the semester the number of students interested in the question grew. 

Uncovering the Root of the Problem

As the class began to explore this mystery they discovered that the mushroom was an indication of a larger problem lurking beneath the baseboard – the intrusion of water caused by rain and high humidity. The moisture created prime conditions for the growth of mold and fungus. Knowing that the problem stemmed from the intrusion of water, Ms. Breslin pushed her students to deepen their understanding of how a public building was invaded with mold. From here students began to study the social, regulatory, and political structures that govern indoor air quality – asking why these problems were allowed to escalate. 

Advocating For Change

The students discovered that the policies in their district didn’t cover active mold spores. In fact, state regulations failed to account for mold in public buildings at all. Once they understood the policy context, Ms. Breslin asked them to create a plan to change the policies and practices that indoor air quality. As they moved out into the community to discuss the problem the students met with School Board Members, the Mayor, City Council Members, and members of Virginia’s House of Delegates. Working with the allies they developed at every level the students crafted legislation to improve indoor air quality standards. 

The students saw their legislation pass the Virginia House of Delegates in February of 2020 and the bill was signed into law by Governor Northam on April 7, 2020.