Tag Archive: education

NYC’s DEP launches sound and noise education program

Photo credit: Arline Bronzaft, PhD

By Arline Bronzaft, PhD, Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition (introduction by G.M. Briggs, Editor)

The educational arm of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has recently launched a sound and noise education module.The module consists of:

Interactive, multi-disciplinary, STEM lessons and activities [that] introduce students and teachers to the study of the New York City sound environment, New York City’s Noise Code, and the public health issues, both mental and physical, associated with noise.

One element of the elementary lesson plan is the book “Listen to the Raindrops,” by Dr. Arline Bronzaft, noted noise activist, GrowNYC board member, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition. Dr. Bronzaft writes about her involvement in the DEP’s groundbreaking noise education efforts:

For years I have conducted research and written on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, including the impacts of noise on children’s learning. One day discussing noise with a children’s book writer, she suggested that I take a stab at writing a book to teach children about the dangers of noise. My first response was that I was not suited for the task, but she said, “if not you, who?” When I left her apartment, I took pencil to paper and during the hour trip back to my home I completed the book “Listen to the Raindrops.” The book, which was written in rhyme, aimed to teach children about the beauty of the good sounds around them and the dangers of noise, especially to their ears.

A children’s book requires illustrations, of course, and I was fortunate that Steve Parton, an illustrator, and the father of a daughter who had received one of the first cochlear implants, agreed to provide the illustrations. After reading the book to a number of classes and listening to the children’s comments, it was clear that Steve’s illustrations beguiled the children.

For years I have worked closely with DEP in our joint efforts to bring the decibel level down in this city. Much still needs to be done, but I was delighted when the DEP’s educational arm added a sound/noise component to its website and asked to include “Listen to the Raindrops” to its curriculum.

The DEP has recently launched its sound and noise curriculum–it is online and all are invited to go to the site to see it. Now we need you to spread the word about the curriculum. Noise is not just a New York City problem. Cities and towns worldwide can include noise education in their school curricula. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has materials on its website that educate elementary school children about the harmful effects of noise ( e.g., Listen Up!), but at one time the agency made a greater effort than today to reach out to schools nationwide about teaching children about the dangers of noise.

Let us alert public officials, educators, and all citizens to the importance of teaching children early on that noise will harm their ears, their learning ability, and their overall health. Promoting these educational materials will also inform the general public about the deleterious impacts of noise, as the children will undoubtedly bring home the sound and noise information they learn at school and become spokespersons for quieting our surroundings. And the children shall lead!

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Deja Vu: American Classrooms Are Still Too Noisy

By Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, Founding Member, The Quiet Coalition

Editor’s note: The impact of environmental noise on kids’ performance in public schools is a sadly familiar one—even though solutions have long been known—witness this article about classroom noise in Decatur, Georgia. Selective progress has been made—thanks to four decades of work on this subject by one of The Quiet Coalition’s co-founders, Dr. Arline Bronzaft, including development of an ANSI standard for Classroom Acoustics*.  We asked Dr. Bronzaft to reflect on this four-decade-long project. Here are her thoughts:

In the mid-1970s, a parent of an elementary school child (like the Decatur parent, C. Aiden Downey, in the article above), asked me, her psychology professor, to help her lessen the noise intruding on her child’s classroom learning. The source of the noise were passing trains on elevated train tracks in New York City. We needed proof to back up her claim that noise intruded on learning.  With the help of the principal of P.S. 98 in Upper Manhattan, my co-author and I conducted a study which demonstrated that by the sixth grade children attending P.S. 98 classrooms near the tracks were nearly a year behind in reading compared to children on the quiet side of the building. Armed with proof and the support from public officials and the media, my requests to the Transit Authority and the Board of Education resulted in noise abatement on the tracks and in the classrooms. After the abatement was in place, a second study at the school found that children on both sides of the building were reading at the same level.

Today, forty years later, the Decatur parent above is lamenting about the intrusion of noise in his child’s classroom despite numerous publications on the deleterious effects of noise on learning, including several of my writings on how architects, engineers, and planners can involve themselves more assertively in providing quieter classrooms. Even former President Obama commented on noise near schools. Early in his first term, in a talk before Congress, he referred to a child in the audience who attended a school in Dillon, South Carolina, where teaching had “…to stop six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.” I later learned that this student’s school did get funding to address its leaks and peeling paint and, one hopes, the noise. But President Obama turned a “deaf ear” to pleas to revitalize the noise arm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and today, under Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s website on noise has been weakened.

The way to reduce classroom noise is known; it is the will that is lacking. It is this message that Dr. Downey and the parents of school children in Decatur and elsehwere have to bring to their local authorities. They can count on my assistance.

*Development of the ANSI Classroom Acoustics Standard was kick-started by Dr. Bronzaft; it was based on her research and encouraged by the U.S. Access Board. Development was carried out over a decade by a stalwart band of engineers. Since completion of the standard, several states have adopted it into their building codes. But all building codes are local, so this national standard will only be adopted by local school building programs if parents are actively engaged in the decision-making regarding school construction and renovation. Only parents can press their local school boards to recognize that research has proven noise interferes with learning and impairs children’ future success. Meanwhile, noisy classrooms will continue to be a problem across the U.S.

Originally posted on The Quiet Coalition blog.