How to Find and Destroy Germs in Your K–5 Classroom

Pesky germs! They’re good at lurking in plain view and getting everyone in arm’s reach sick. So when you’ve got 25-plus elementary school kids sharing and touching the same high-traffic spaces, you’re bound to have culprit areas of your classroom that are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses.

Teachers, we’re giving you a fortified line of defense. We’ve gathered cleaning experts, pediatricians and fellow educators to help you find and destroy the germs that disrupt your stellar lesson plans.

Zero in on Hot Spots

“Watch where and what your students touch as they come into your classroom throughout the school week,” suggests Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication for the American Cleaning Institute in Washington, DC. Think of the obvious places:

  • Keyboards
  • Doorknobs
  • Bathroom sinks, faucets and stalls
  • Water fountains
  • Cafeteria trays
  • Tables and chairs
  • Pens and pencils
  • Tablet touch screens

Anywhere hands are touching a surface regularly should be considered a hot spot, “so just knowing the most common areas in the classroom helps,” adds Jennifer Gardner, a pediatrician and the founder of Healthy Kids Company in Washington, DC. And remember, viruses, like the flu, can live for two to eight hours on surfaces (sometimes longer). So keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

Enlist a Clean Team

Once you identify the areas where germs are thriving, take action. Involve students, faculty, staff and parents in a collective effort to stop germs from spreading. Sansoni suggests talking with custodial staff to make sure the areas you’ve identified are added to their list of routinely cleaned spaces. In between the custodian’s cleaning schedule, use your own cleaning supplies, such as disinfecting wipes and sprays or bleach solutions.

Many schools, such as The Gillispie School in La Jolla, CA, find it helps to let students participate in the actual hot-spot cleaning. “To keep those areas clean, we have a classroom job called ‘Sanitizer.’ This person wipes down surfaces with a sanitizing wipe,” says fifth-grade teacher Heidi Long.

Some germs can be eradicated with the swipe of a sanitizing wipe. Other viral outbreaks may require deeper cleaning, such as spraying the surface with a mix of bleach and water (1/4 cup to 1 gallon, says Gardner) and leaving it to dry overnight.

You can also have the school nurse or administrative staff track illnesses to hone in on what’s contagious and where it’s lurking. Sending notes home about your efforts and getting parents to keep sick students away from school also helps spread the word, and not the germs.

Teach Them Well

Back in the classroom, use your teaching skills so students learn the best ways to stay healthy and happy. And most importantly, keep the tools they need stocked and at the ready. You don’t want to preach hand washing and then have empty soap dispensers in the bathroom.

These classroom guidelines will help keep germs at bay:

  • Enlist the school nurse to help teach children proper hygiene
  • Wash hands often. Post rules about why washing hands is important, and when (e.g., before eating, after blowing the nose, and after touching contaminated objects like door knobs, hand rails, computer keyboards, phones)
  • Enforce a “cover your cough” rule: cough into a tissue or the elbow, not the hands
  • Encourage sick children to stay home
  • Maintain a well-stocked first aid kit. Talk to your school nurse or consult the American Red Cross Web site for recommended supplies
  • Teach children to stay at least 6 feet away from someone who is coughing
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs to help slow the spread of infection at home and in the classroom
  • Don’t share/trade food or beverages or share utensils — the flu virus can spread one day before the onset of symptoms and up to a week after the infected person becomes ill
  • Keep hand soap, paper towels, tissues, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and cleaning supplies stocked at all times

Following these basic tips can help you keep the germiest parts of your K–5 classroom as clean as possible, and those sick days at a minimum.

For more information, visit the Healthy Schools, Healthy People, It’s a Snap! Web site, a program created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cleaning Institute; the CDC’s Germ Stopper page; or FightBac.org to find resources and educational materials for keeping classrooms and schools safe and healthy places to learn.

Claire Parker has a solid understanding of education from more than a decade of covering the beat for award-winning national and local publications. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and relishes Southern gardens, outdoor parties and anything to do with saltwater and sand. Follow her on Google+.

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