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Impact of particulate matter exposure and surrounding "greenness" on chronic absenteeism in Massachusetts public schools

Summary


Surrounding greenness and air quality are significantly associated with chronic absenteeism in schools

This study investigated the impact of green space and air pollution on chronic absenteeism in schools in Massachusetts. Chronic absenteeism, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, means missing 10% or more of school days in a school year. This is equivalent to 18 missed days of school. Students who are chronically absent tend to score lower on academic performance measures and generally have fewer employment opportunities and worse health after graduation.

Data for this study was obtained from multiple sources. Satellite-based measurements were used to obtain information about greenness and air pollution around the schools in Massachusetts. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) was used for greenness, and the PM2.5 for fine particulate matter air pollution. School-specific data, including absenteeism, was obtained from Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the National Center for Education Statistics.

An analysis of the data indicated that higher surrounding greenness was associated with lower absenteeism and higher ambient particulate matter (air pollution) was associated with higher absenteeism, even when race and income were accounted for. The effects of surrounding greenness and air pollution did not appear to be entirely additive. This suggests that surrounding greenness and air pollution can independently influence chronic absenteeism rates. If one factor (either greenness or air quality) is adequate, the other could still affect absenteeism.

Previous studies indicate that schools in low socioeconomic status areas tend to have high air pollution and low NDVI scores. They also tend to have higher chronic absenteeism. In this study, both greenness and air pollution influenced absenteeism almost as much as income and race. These findings suggest that addressing these environmental predictors of absenteeism (greenness and air pollution) may help reduce the burden on disadvantaged communities.

This research highlights the importance of evaluating the environmental context around schools. Addressing such environmental factors as air quality, access to green space, and proximity to roadways and waste sites may be an effective way to reduce chronic absenteeism and ultimately promote community well-being. Schools are encouraged to invest in landscaping around their schools and to improve access to parks and nature. Policies should be adopted to ensure that new schools are sited away from major roadways and industrial sources and in areas with more access to nature.

Citation

MacNaughton, P., Eitland, E., Kloog, I., Schwartz, J., Allen, J., (2017). Impact of particulate matter exposure and surrounding "greenness" on chronic absenteeism in Massachusetts public schools. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(2)

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