First of all, may I wish you an extremely happy and prosperous 2016. It has been really enjoyable catching up with so many students and parents over the past two weeks, hearing stories of holidays all over the world, but also seeing the smiling faces as we get back with friends and the BSB family here in Beijing. After a difficult end of last term with the pollution days, it has also been wonderful to see that the wind has been blowing from the north, giving us those clear, crisp, beautiful days which make us remember the great side of living here.
By the way, a number of parents I have spoken with were not aware of the ‘Windfinder’ app on your phone, which seems to predict pretty accurately the wind speed and direction, and therefore gives hope, on those days when we do have pollution, of when the wind will blow it away.
I am sure many of you will have noticed that there is building work taking place in and around our car park at school. We are delighted to say that this is because the overhead power cables are being moved further away from the school. This is a good thing in itself, but also means that, longer term, we may well be able to expand our outdoor sports and play facilities. There will be some disruption over the next two to three months, including some temporary rerouting of the cables, but the long term benefit to us will be significant.
I am sure you have all received the email advising you of the latest round of our Wednesday Workshops for Parents. If not, the details are also contained in this newsletter. These have proved very popular with parents, providing information on a very wide range of matters regarding our curriculum and how to help your children learn, but also on living in Beijing, preparation for future life at university etc. You are extremely welcome at any workshop, and please feel free to let us know if there are any topics you would like covered in the future – if we can’t do it ourselves, we will certainly find someone who can.
As I mentioned above, we all remember that we had some horrible pollution days in December. Parents were quite rightly concerned about what we are doing to continually improve air quality in the building and some have asked what has taken place over the winter break.
Firstly, the good news was that, even on those horrific days, our air purification system showed that it worked extremely well. On the days when it was over 200, we used our calibrated PM 2.5 monitors to verify that, in almost all classrooms, we achieved readings of lower than 15 when the AQI outside was over 200, and lower than 30 even on those days when it reached over 500 outside.
However, we did discover that there were issues in the large communal spaces – the foyer, the first/ground floor corridors, the old drama studio and the gymnasium. Further investigation showed that this was for one main reason – the air purifiers were working well but we were allowing too much pollution to enter in these areas. We also have a number of windows and doors that were not well enough sealed. We have therefore adopted a short term and a medium term solution.
In the medium term:
- For ground floor classrooms and the main circulation areas, we have already had suppliers provide quotations for replacing some doors and slide windows (the main source of pollution entering);
- We will also be installing more ceiling purifiers in these areas during 2016 and changing the way school entrances are configured to reduce any pollution that can enter that way, by creating limited, enclosed entrances, hopefully with positive pressure zones therein.
We are currently engaging with two (maybe three) companies of independent consultants, including those from Tsinghua University, to verify the very best ways to achieve these measures.
However, both of these items take planning and there is inevitably a delivery a fitting time on the doors etc which mean we need a longer holiday to organise this. We have therefore implemented some immediate measures which, when tested over the equally awful pollution days that occurred in Beijing during the Christmas holiday, made a significant difference.
Therefore, in the short term, we have:
- sealed all the sliding windows to the ground floor classrooms;
- installed a significant additional number of freestanding air purifiers on the ground floor of the Primary and Early Years building – this is only a short term solution but is already making a difference;
- checked and replaced the rubber strips of windows and doors;
- changed the filters of all air purifiers on ground floor – this is two months ahead of the scheduled maintenance but we believe it is important, given those really bad days, to do so more often.
And, actually perhaps more importantly, we have looked very closely at the way we manage the building on those really bad air days. It became more and more clear to us in December that the balance between being a very open school and one where we protect our children from pollution was tilted too far in the direction of being open. On bad air days therefore, we will:
- Severely restrict the entrances and exits to the school, closing (except in emergency) the vast majority;
- Restricting daytime and after school activities (including those provided by outside vendors) to avoid footfall and door opening;
- Limiting access to the building for parents apart from at drop off and pick up times;
- Limiting pupil movement around the building except as necessary;
- Cancelling or moving any large events in the building.
I do of course appreciate that this will cause some inconvenience but there is no price that can be put on the health and well-being of our children, and we must do all we can to preserve this. Clearly, as we continue to develop the building and our facilities, we will amend our policies to match.
I have of course noticed that some parents have wanted to test air quality in our school with consumer AQI monitors such as the Origins Laser Egg or other devices. I fully understand the desire to do so and parents’ concerns. Indeed, when these devices are showing that the air quality is very poor, clearly that is an issue for us and one on which we must act.
However, I have also taken considerable independent advice and I think it is only fair that I also advise that such DIY testing may cause confusion due to several reasons. Firstly, some of the devices may not display mass concentration (ug/m3) units, but rather an index of different units such as Air Quality Index (AQI) or Air Pollution Index (API) or even particle count. These index numbers are often calculated differently (even the US EPA and local MEP monitoring stations calculate AQI differently) and cannot be directly compared against each other. Some of these devices do not even measure PM2.5 (although some of course do). In addition, some consumer level devices do not have the accuracy to measure fine particulates and often give raw ‘particle count’.
Professional consultants have recommended to us only measuring in mass concentration, a definitive unit that is not normalized using a scale.
Furthermore, measurements are often taken between classes or out of class hours, when doorways are being opened and/or filtrations systems are not operating in a normal class environment. Testing under these conditions is not indicative of the typical in-class environment, where school staff are trained to close doors and windows and turn up the filtration systems. Secondly, student or parent activity and the frequent opening and closing of doors may cause spikes within the readings in or near the areas where this is happening. We have been advised that a better way to manage air quality is to track the 24 hour average, which is a direction that we are working on.
That is absolutely NOT, of course, to say that we do not take the concerns of parents using home air quality monitors extremely seriously – our concern is about improving air quality, not about measuring it. But we do recognise the desire of parents to have accurate readings of the air quality in the building on a regular basis, so part of our planning for 2016 is to introduce a much higher degree of visible monitoring around the building, both for classrooms and for communal areas. I hope that this will be able to provide parents with the accurate, reliable and hopefully reassuring information on a much more regular basis.
Chinese New Year Celebrations
As you know, in the period leading up to Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, our Chinese lessons focus on important aspects of Chinese culture leading up to a day of celebration and performance. This year, with some really helpful input from parents, we have decided to set this up as a ‘Temple Fair’ incorporating our students but also a number of external vendors. This is in the calendar for Friday 5 February but a number of parents have observed that, in particular but not only, our Chinese families may well be leaving early to go to their home towns and visit family. We have therefore changed the date to Friday 19 February (still within the festival period). Your child’s teacher will give them and you much more detail about what is happening.
Working with some fantastic ideas from our Chinese group within the Parents’ Association, our intention is to make this a much bigger event in 2017, with a Temple Fair taking place on a Saturday so that entire families will be able to participate in this terrific celebration of the culture of the country in which we are privileged to live.
Parent Wifi login
A few parents have commented to me that it can be a nuisance when you visit school to have to use the ‘Guest’ login to the school’s wifi, which means checking the password every time. We have therefore created a new parent login:
Your device should remember this password and you should only need to enter it once to remain permanently logged in when you are in school. We hope this will make your communications, such as sharing information in real time with friends and family abroad, much easier. We will of course maintain the Guest wifi for irregular visitors to the site.
I apologise for the unusual length of this piece, but I did want to write in some detail about the air quality issues.
Wishing you once again an excellent term and year ahead.
With best wishes