When Ridgeview Elementary special education teacher Mary Preston turns on the lights in her classroom this school year, things will look just a little bit different. A small change that is already making a world of difference.
Her room and everything in it will have a darker, bluer tint, in hopes of cutting down on the effects of harsh fluorescent light.
“It's a huge difference now that someone ordered the whole set for the classroom,” Preston said motioning to the new light covers which are held to the fixtures via magnetic strips.
Fluorescent light has recently been linked to a variety of health issues.
According to one study by the National Institutes for Health, prolonged exposure to fluorescent lights were linked to a 12 percent increase in eye disease. Another study done by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety showed the “flickering” of fluorescent lights can also cause eye strain and fatigue.
But for those with autism and other sensory disorders, fluorescent light exposure can come with symptoms that are much worse and more disruptive, especially in the classroom.
“Autistic kids can hear the noise that the lights make. It's also a distraction. We catch them looking up at the lights during the day. It causes headaches, triggers behavior, it's hard to focus, just a bunch of different things depending on the child,” Preston said while teaching shapes and letters to two of her pre-k students.
The covers were bought with a $50,000 donation from the Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores which bought enough covers for four entire classrooms, roughly 50 light covers, after searching through a long list of causes. The donation was part of a larger $120,000 donation to the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. The remaining money will be spent, in part, on buying coats for students for the winter.
“This one stood out to us because it was a little bit different,” Love’s spokeswoman Kealey Dorian said. “We kind of stopped and said 'huh, what do they want to do with these light covers and how does that impact students?'”
“It's not only going to have an impact on my three right now but lots of kids in the next 30 years of our teaching career," Preston said. “Every school needs them, especially the special ed classrooms, because it makes a world of difference.”