Healthy Kids Hero 2018: Speaking Up For Safety

Every year, to mark the anniversary of the 1937 Texas School Explosion, I salute inspirational leaders who demonstrate an extraordinary sense of responsibility and commitment to the safety of children and their communities. Kathy Murray is a 2018 Healthy Kids Hero.

Kathy Murray is the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Specialist at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

During her first year in her position, she was approached by a parent who raised concerns about pesticides in the schools. Murray’s response was to garner support from the state education department to survey schools about their pest management concerns and pesticide use practices.

Over 88% of school districts completed and returned the survey and the findings, summarized in Murray’s report, were eye opening. (‘What’s Bugging Our Schools?’)

The report got attention and new regulations were adopted to require all public and private schools to follow IPM practices and policies. These regulations were amended in recent years to require school IPM Coordinators to complete IPM training. One benefit is that Maine schools can identify pest exclusion and prevention needs in their applications for state subsidized construction funding that allows schools to bring facilities up to standards for safety and energy efficiency.

Kathy Murray has a national reputation for dedication, expertise, and leadership. Murray is co-coordinator of the Northeastern School Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Working Group and a member of the National IPM School Steering Committee. The Northeastern Group is a regional group with representatives from land-grant IPM programs, government, private industry, and nonprofits from eleven northeastern states.

The School IPM Working Group encourage partnerships with diverse stakeholders such as landscape, turf, schools, homes, structures, gardens, urban forests, and public health. Murray also leads the Maine School IPM Program that provides training and guidance to all public and private schools in the state.

Kathy Murray’s presentation, “The Maine School IPM Coordinators Role,” is one of the many resources she has created to help school staff meet IPM Coordinator certification standards and to implement best practices for reducing risks of pests and pesticides and improving indoor air quality.

The theme of her program is that IPM is a team effort. It reduces health risks and energy costs, saves time, protects property and the environment and solves pest problems sensibly, permanently, affordably.

A Legacy of Leadership

“Kathy is a preeminent person in New England and beyond,” says her IPM Working Group Co-coordinator, Lynn Braband, Senior Extension Associate for the NY State IPM Program of Cornell U.

“She has been a key member and leader of the School IPM Workgroup for its whole existence. She is the main school IPM outreach person for the state of Maine and her talents are used nationally. She is sought after as a collaborator. She recently received a grant to expand programs and resources for school nurses and was a collaborator on a grant to study over-seeding as a management tool on school athletic fields.”

School Nurses on the Front Lines of Public Health

Browntail Moth Caterpillar

Murray’s work with school nurses is described in a recent article in EntomologyToday, The Role of School Nurses in Integrated Pest Management for Public Health.

In addition to surveys that identify gaps and needs of school staff, Murray says she learns valuable insights from visiting schools and from conversations with school staff. For example, when a school nurse called her agency for information about an infestation of browntail moth caterpillars causing severe rashes among students, Murray organized a state-wide webinar to provide timely recommendations for nurses and facility directors. Other high interest topics for schools are ticks and mosquitoes.

There are new tick tools for school nurses to promote awareness of IPM

Murray is impressed by the level of school nurses’ activism and pride, saying “They know how to get things done.” Murray encourages school nurses and facility managers to work together to advocate for IPM resources.

A Champion for Children

Veronika Carella, a Children’s Environmental Health Advocate and Legislative Director of the Maryland Children’s Environmental Health Coalition is another long serving leader in the IPM School Working Group.

“As an advocate for children, I am thankful for people like Dr. Kathy Murray. Dr. Murray has worked diligently for many years to guide, educate and inspire others on how to control pests without causing harm to children and their environment. Recognizing the impact that chemical means of pest control can have on a child’s school and community, Dr. Murray has championed and promoted safer alternatives. I have seen firsthand how her efforts have improved the lives of many children.”

Robert Koethe, Ph.D., Region 1 Pesticide Expert, U.S. EPA-New England, Region 1, writes,

“…While Kathy Murray’s responsibilities include working in many agricultural and non-agricultural systems she is most passionate about protecting children from risks posed by pests and pesticides. Kathy is a leader in educating parents, teachers and other school staff on pesticide use and IPM methods. She has developed innovative programs to teach school facility managers, nurses and teachers on IPM methods and complying with Maine’s school IPM program. She can always be counted on to go the extra step to help people in need of good information on protecting themselves and their children from pests and misuse of pesticides in the school environment.”

Stop School Pests: IPM for Everyone

Murray has contributed to the development of school IPM resources such as the IPM Working Group’s “Best Management Practices for School IPM and the School IPM Cost Calculator (IPMCalculator.com) developed by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

Another recent project she was involved with is the StopSchoolPests program spearheaded by the University of Arizona and the IPM Institute, the first-ever standardized, national, peer-reviewed, pilot-tested training that has undergone many rounds of feedback from participants working in schools to make sure it meets their needs. There are free online training modules for Facility Managers, Maintenance Staff, Administrative Staff, Teachers, Food Service Staff, Custodial Staff, Landscape and Grounds Staff, School Nurses and IPM Basics — Introductory training.

The Maine School IPM Coordinators Role

Murray also partners with the Maine Chapter of the Education Plant Maintenance Association that provides leadership for vendors, custodians, facility directors, safety and health professionals. Murray often provides IPM training for new and veteran IPM School Coordinators as well as custodians and maintenance staff at their annual conference.

The Compassion of a Social Worker

“I love Kathy Murray as a person and professional” writes Janet A. Hurley, MPA, Extension Program Specialist III, School IPM, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (Hero 2013).

“Kathy is one of those rare individuals who works for a state agency, but has the compassion to do her job like a social worker. She gives of herself and her time to not just work with schools, but producers, pest control professionals, nurses, and others. Her role with Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry could just be an educator or regulator, but she truly cares of what the people of Maine need.”

“When I first met her I remember her work with School IPM, but she was also working with vegetable growers. She would go from a school district in the morning to a farm in the afternoon and happy all along the way. Kathy has taught me a lot over the years how to be a good leader. Working with her on the National School IPM Work Group, plus other work groups for the International IPM Symposium and eXtension Urban IPM Community of Practice I know I can count on her to get a task done.”

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