Diocesan students are getting a breath of fresh air — literally. While schools everywhere are attempting to make learning environments healthier for students and teachers alike, some are going beyond traditional methods to get to the root cause. By attempting to eradicate the problems rather than mask or manage them, schools can begin to enjoy a healthier student body.
Within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, several schools are testing methods for purifying air and have landed on a new strategy in the fight to keep students safer from airborne pathogens: UV-C (ultraviolet-C) airflow technology. Holy Family School in South Bend and Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger high schools in Fort Wayne are currently implementing the technology, while other schools are assessing it.
When asked what prompted the purchase of the UV-C systems, Bishop Dwenger Maintenance Director Dan Conroy chuckled, “COVID-19, of course. Isn’t that the reason for everything these days?”
It is well known that the ongoing pandemic has impacted schools and continues to do so. From quarantines to masks and everything in between, the pandemic has altered the education world’s method of operations.
Despite the added precautions, more changes can be made to protect students and staff. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is taking that responsibility seriously and continuing to make strides toward safe and healthy learning environments.
New technologically centered strategies such as the purification systems are based on the constant gathering of information and resources available. Superintendent, Dr. Joseph Brettnacher added, “The virus is most prevalent in the air, and eradicating it as it flows through UV-C technology when it enters the device helps protect our students.” UV-C airborne technology eradicates 99.9% of the viruses that enter the new device within one second.
“Used in areas of the school where students are most vulnerable, it helps reduce the spread of many viruses,” said Brettnacher. “In addition, UV-C is the CDC’s preferred technology to inactivate the SARS Cov2 virus.”
While the installation of the units was spurred by the pandemic, the health benefits go beyond filtering COVID-19.
Bishop Dwenger science teacher Liz Walker has suffered from severe allergies her entire life. “Even when I was a student here, I would have a six-month headache. I just basically buckled down and suffered from allergies for months on end.”
Thanks to the UV-C filtration systems in her room, Walker said, “my eyes aren’t itchy. My head isn’t pounding. I am not sneezing constantly. This has changed the entire atmosphere. Many of my students who are allergy sufferers notice the difference too. It has really re-focused our environment on getting to learn.”
As Brettnacher mentioned, pathogens and viruses are almost entirely eliminated from the air with the UV-C system; and it translates to surfaces as well. The cleaner air results in a significant decrease of pathogens landing on surfaces and spreading further. The UV light mimics the antimicrobial power of sunlight, a process that allows the particulates to be almost entirely eradicated and not allowed to settle or be ingested.
Conroy explained that the UV-C purifier isn’t the only new weapon being used in the air assault on pathogens. The school is also beginning to install ionic air purifiers as well. “Those systems are going in our common areas because they can handle a larger space.” The common areas include Bishop Dwenger’s school gymnasium, library, chapel and cafeteria.
The ionic air purifier cycles air through the system and adds an electromagnetic charge to the particles that flow into the space. These charged particles then get filtered through the ionizer. “It’s basically like a big magnet,” said Conroy. “These charged particles get sucked up and the harmful matter such as mold and dust get held and not recirculated.”
The benefits of these systems have caused staff to take notice. Walker cites immediate changes upon the installation of the air units; not only is she feeling healthier herself, but the marked improvement in her students is encouraging.
“As of right now, I have no students out for illness. None,” she shared. “This is the start of cold and flu season. We’re in an ongoing pandemic. We don’t even have a mask mandate here, and I have no sick kids. If you would have told me a year ago that this is where the state of my room would be, I would have not believed it. My kids with chronic issues and even those without all tell me the same thing: The air just feels different in here.”
Walker and her fellow teachers are hopeful. While the whole world is still adjusting, these changes begin to allow for a slow return to normal. For now, it’s one more avenue that lets everyone in school shift their focus back to what they are there for: learning.
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