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Natural light aids learning

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Architects design sunny schools

June 6, 1996
Web Posted at: 4:00 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

RALEIGH, North Carolina (CNN) -- Some North Carolina educators believe sunnier classrooms lead to smarter, happier youngsters, so they had architects design schools that give students a dose of natural light.

Durrant Road Middle and Clayton Middle schools use skylights called light monitors that allow classrooms to be partly sunny year-round without the harsh glare attributed to certain light sources.

Typically, these schools benefit from natural light half of the day. When the sunlight is not bright enough, fluorescent bulbs are activated automatically.

Initially, the schools were designed to lower utility costs, but the advantages of so-called daylight schools became readily apparent.

school

While there are no long term studies on the subject, a Canadian report found that natural light produces health and performance benefits, including higher attendance rates and better dental hygiene.

Attendance in daylight schools routinely tops attendance in neighboring counties -- students get a better education and schools receive more funding.

These benefits are due, in part, to an architectural breakthrough involving light refraction that takes the powerful glare out of natural sunlight.

The light monitor is constructed with vertical glass panes facing north and south, so incoming light can be controlled in the winter and summer months.

day winter

In the winter, sunlight enters Earth's atmosphere at a lower angle. Light shines directly into the classrooms and is diffused by "baffles" in the ceiling to emit gentle light and extra heat.

In the summer months, the sun is higher and needs to be diffused more. An overhang keeps the sun from shining directly at the monitor; it refracts the light, which is diffused throughout the classroom. (Daylight QuickTime movie)

The use of sunlight clearly keeps electricity costs down. Sunlight is cooler than fluorescent bulbs, so air conditioners are used less. Cutting cooling costs saves the school system up to 65 percent on their utility bills.

student

Proponents of sunlight in the classroom say light gives students more energy, and they don't feel boxed-in or trapped.

Student Mike Herron is sold on the arrangement. (Sound: 85k AIFF or 85k WAV sound)

And although there are a few teachers who are unhappy, there are enough school officials who back the idea that more daylight schools are being built.

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