Council of School Supervisors & Administrators

local 1: american federation of school administrators, afl-cio

All-Out Fight Against Asthma
No. 1 Reason For Missed School Days in the US
by Anne Silverstein

Back in the mid-20th century, we rarely buckled our seatbelts, we smoked with impunity and women drank while pregnant. But thanks to public health campaigns, many of us changed our ways.

And thanks to a non-profit organization called the Asthma Free School Zone, children breathe easier in many schools around New York City.

Since 2001, the Asthma Free School Zone (AFSZ) has worked to raise the level of environmental health in schools. “Health is linked to student achievement,” said AFSZ founder and Director Rebecca Kalin. Studies have shown that asthma is the number one health-related reason children miss school nationwide, and, despite the overall improvement in air quality, more children suffer from asthma than ever.

AFSZ provides training for schools to improve a building’s “health” as well as to improve the area around the site, said Ms. Kalin. More than 150 schools, and some pre-schools and Day Care Centers have participated, receiving training, support materials and street signs. Many have also participated in neighborhood events.

The idea for doing something about asthma occurred to Ms. Kalin one day as she walked past a school. At the time, she
was completing her master’s degree in public health at Hunter College. She noticed school buses idling in front of the school and thought, “What asthma needs is a creative thinker … I thought ‘that’s me!’”

Much credit goes to AFSZ for city and state anti-idling legislation as well as a state lawsuit (successful) against eight bus companies. Ms. Kalin’s aim was simple: to develop a program that prevents the disease among children, who are extremely vulnerable to pollution, thus reducing asthma-related absences and helping them to perform better in school.

The longterm goal of the program is to make the reduction of asthma triggers part of a school’s culture. “If there’s any disease that requires ‘It needs a village’, it’s asthma,” said Ms. Kalin. The longterm goal is that one day, everyone will know what to do to prevent asthma without a second thought. Just like they put on seatbelts.


Asthma affects 20 million Americans nationwide, including 9.9 million children, whose rates are rising nationwide.

Poor and non-white NYC children bear a disproportionate burden. One in 11 school-age children have asthma. In some NYC areas, the rate is one in four, nearly three times the national average.

Asthma costs the nation $14. 7 billion in health care dollars annually. It is number one health reason children miss school.

Every year, asthma accounts for nearly 500,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths across the US at a cost of nealy $20 billion.