By Tom Keating
Thilo Panzerbieter and his girlfriend at the time, Martina, now his wife, came to San Francisco in 2007, and I trained him on how to review school restrooms. Now Thilo, the executive director of the German Toilet Organization, has worked with Project CLEAN to improve more than 20 Berlin schools.
Imagine he were asking you these questions about your own school bathrooms. How would you respond? Project CLEAN would certainly like to have a joint project in the States and in Germany, and these last two blog posts may lead the way.
Thilo: At no other school is the gap in the level of maturity – from the youngest to the oldest students – as big as at elementary schools. How does this affect the work that must be carried out to improve school restrooms at elementary schools?
Tom: The bigger problem is that students in primary grades follow instructions quite well, while those in the upper elementary grades, fourth and fifth, start being more independent. And when these older students “cross over” to middle school, it is like they cross a psychological/biological railroad tracks. We need much more orientation at the end of the fifth grade, which is then stated in a new way in the first weeks of sixth grade. Transitions are the key to having elementary grade students continue good habits in the middle years.
Thilo: Would you talk about shifting responsibilities from elementary to middle to high school along the continuum of from soap to citizenship?
Tom: Grades K-3 are the instruction years. Kids learn to eliminate in school, wash hands, and keep restrooms tidy. Often these lessons slack off in upper elementary. Then unfortunately middle school often becomes destruction years with mischievous and outright vandalism in some cases. High school years are nonchalant or careless years unless someone reaches out to young adolescents and establishes relationships around restroom issues including the GTO approach of introducing young citizens to worldwide concerns over sanitation.
Thilo: From your experience in working at German and US American schools, where is the toilet taboo greater? Is it tougher to address such issues in Germany or in the United States? Or is the taboo actually an advantage when addressing the issue?
Tom: I feel the taboo is greater in the USA, though because of my limited German language I would like to test that thought. The taboo can be an advantage if restroom improvement in schools is approached from many angles – facilities, curriculum, clubs, custodial, maintenance, organizations, wellness, health, and leadership by the building leaders.
Thilo: Do you believe that school partnerships between schools in Germany and in the United States could help to improve the respective school restrooms? If so, how can we initiate such a partnership? What can students from these different countries learn from each other?
Tom: Partnerships might help with a minimum of a two-year commitment, enough funding, and stable leadership. To begin a partnership with GTO and Project CLEAN and say one middle or high school in each country, we need a Letter of Agreement with three or four agreed upon activities, and a modest amount of euros and dollars. Students can learn better ways to deal with sanitation, wellness, school restroom issues, and worldwide toilet conditions. I believe any exchange of cultural and educational experiences would benefit all the students.
If interested, please contact Thilo at firstname.lastname@example.org.