This is the first part of a three-part article about improving hand washing in schools.

Soap and water — it’s a combination we learned as kids. We were taught to wash our hands after using the restroom, before we eat, after we’re done playing, etc. Yet far too often, we take this simple and effective health prevention tool for granted, especially in our schools.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infectious diseases account for millions of school days lost each year for kindergarten through 12th-grade public school students in the United States. In fact, 40 percent of children aged 5 to 17 years missed three or more school days in the past year because of illness or injury. Nearly 22 million school days are lost each year due to colds alone. And 38 million school days are lost each year due to the influenza virus, says the CDC.

But with the hectic hustle-and-bustle of today’s school day, do custodial personnel really have time to teach (or re-teach) clean?

Get With The Program

Custodial professionals can play an important role in hand hygiene by working with their teachers and school administrative colleagues to implement in-school hygiene education programs designed to promote the importance of hand washing and reduce student absenteeism.

One way to do that is with the “Healthy Schools, Healthy People: the School Network for Absenteeism Prevention” program — a joint initiative of the CDC and the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). This program seeks to improve hand hygiene habits to help prevent the spread of infectious disease and reduce related absenteeism. The goal is to enhance health by making hand cleaning an integral part of the school day.

First piloted in 2003, thousands of schools and hundreds of thousands of students have used the program to improve hand hygiene. Over the last ten years, 30 schools have earned national recognition and cash awards totaling over $39,000, plus thousands more in free hand cleaning supplies.

Clean hands mean improved health for students, food service staff, teachers, administrators, custodial staff and the entire school community. The problem is that for many people, especially young people, hand washing just isn’t a priority. To encourage students to learn more about hand washing and its importance, programs like this provide tools that custodial executives can use to help make hand washing a habit throughout the day.

For starters, many of these programs provide resources to start, supplement, support, and promote in-school hand washing initiatives. These resources include ideas for teachers and suggested activities for student participants.

But for every activity that can come out of a program, if there are not adequate supplies available to encourage good hand washing habits, all of this is for naught. 

The American Cleaning Institute encourages custodial executives to work with school administrators and education professionals to ensure that each building has the hygiene supplies it needs, so students and staff can easily wash their hands with soap and water. On a daily basis, they are on the front lines of ensuring a healthy and safe environment inside every school building.

next page of this article:
Steps To Boost Hand Hygiene