The Victoria school district proposed a $156.8 million bond for the May 1 ballot. The proposal looks to rebuild two campuses and address district-wide repairs. In a four-part series, the Advocate will explore the bond proposal and what it means for the community.

Mission Valley Elementary School teacher Adrianne Janacek wants the best for her students. That means fewer distractions, more access to the internet and hallways.

“We would like to have some new buildings just for our students and to eliminate some distractions,” Janacek said.

Aging facilities can leave students and teachers struggling with their physical health and their learning wellbeing. Studies have shown that aging and outdated facilities can lead to an increased risk of respiratory illness. Older buildings also come with issues like outdated heating and cooling that can lead to distractions.

Victoria voters will address facility needs on the May 1 ballot. They will vote on a proposed $156.8 million bond package. The package looks to rebuild Mission Valley Elementary School and Stroman Middle School, and it will address district-wide repairs.

Janacek is not in favor or against the bond package, but if the bond is passed she would like to see the essence of the campus incorporated into the new one.

Mission Valley was built in 1937 and was last updated in 1990, according to a facilities report. Stroman Middle School was built in 1967 and was last updated in 1999.

Students and teachers who spend their school days at aging facilities have a higher risk of developing a range of symptoms such as headaches, nausea, respiratory illness, allergies and asthma, said Sheryl Magzamen, associate professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University.

“School buildings have an impact on a number of factors that can impact student and teacher health and wellbeing,” said Magzamen, who has a master’s degree and doctorate in epidemiology. Her research focuses on environmental exposures on childhood chronic disease. She studies the role of indoor air quality and how it relates to the health and performance of students and teachers.

Air exchanges and carbon dioxide levels in a classroom are linked to performance, Magzamen said. Studies have shown that high levels of carbon dioxide are linked to students performing less well in the classroom. The carbon dioxide levels are from students and teachers breathing in the classroom, but if there are insufficient air exchanges, those levels are higher.

The lack of air exchanges and even the cleaning products a campus uses can increase the chances of symptoms like nausea and headaches, she said.

“Some of our research shows the school environment does not affect everyone equally,” she said.

For example, students who test lower than others improve after their school environment is updated, Magzamen said.

A school building affects more than just a teacher’s or students’ physical well being. It also impacts their learning and teaching abilities.

If a student is uncomfortable in their environment, they tend to get distracted or fatigued and will not be optimal learners, Magzamen said.

Students have shown that light, for example, has an impact on them. Students thrive better in environments that have natural daylight opposed to artificial fluorescent light, she said.

A study found that students with more exposure to natural daylight progressed 20% faster in math and 26% faster in reading compared to students who were taught in classrooms with less natural light, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Hsin-Hui Lin, education professor at the University of Houston-Victoria, said a student’s environment is vital to their learning.

“In the classroom setting, I feel like students need to feel like they are safe,” Lin said.

A student needs two vital things to thrive. A student, first, needs to be well fed. Next, they have to feel safe in their school environment, Lin said.

Every student learns differently, and the surroundings affect students differently, Lin said.

Students in standard facilities scored 6.1% higher in English compared to those in substandard facilities, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

In schools like Mission Valley Elementary School, physical classrooms are smaller because of their outdated design. The current classrooms are not up to the Texas Education Agency’s square footage standard per student, which is 30 square feet per student at the elementary level.

Janacek, the Mission Valley fifth grade teacher, said distractions are the main issue she has with an older campus.

On Thursday, her classroom sink was being repaired. It was leaking and caused mold in the cabinet beneath it. Luckily, maintenance was able to repair it while her students were at P.E.

If that repair had to be done during class time, Janacek’s student would not have been able to concentrate, she said.

It’s not the occasional repair that causes distractions either.

On grass cutting days, the mowers can be heard through the windows of the classroom, which lead directly outside. The older campus classroom opens directly outside and does not have hallways leading to the bathrooms, gym or cafeteria.

Weather is also a factor in the students’ ability to learn. With no enclosed hallways, classrooms experience the weather anytime their door opens. When a student is hot or cold, they can’t focus, Janacek said.

Janacek also experiences issues with technology in her older classroom. She has instances where she can’t login to Microsoft Teams to work with her remote students. Other times, the class can’t stream at the same time for online class work.

A new building, though, may help with some of those distractions, Janacek said.

“We do love our school, so it’s hard for me to talk about the negatives,” she said.

Victoria resident Janice Ohrt is on the fence when it comes to the $156.8 million bond.

“I’m not sure yet,” Ohrt said. “I realize that there is a lot that needs to be done in the district especially with the buildings.”

Ohrt, 71, lives in the Mission Valley area. She used to teach at the elementary school, and her children attended the campus.

Her hesitation with the bond comes with the hefty price tag and add-ons to the bond like playgrounds, she said.

The bond proposal calls for a new playground to be added to each elementary school campus for $1.5 million.

It is a “huge amount of money” to rebuild two campuses, Ohrt said.

She would have liked to see teacher salary increases and more maintenance throughout the district, she said.

But Ohrt also said she knows the students need new buildings to avoid any health issues that may come with older buildings.

“It’s not good to be in a leaking school,” she said.

As of now, Ohrt doesn’t know which way she will vote come May 1.

“I think we probably got in a situation where we are going to have to do it,” she said. “But I’m not going to feel all that great about it.”

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Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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