The Importance of Light on Education Outcomes in Pre-K12 Facilities, and How Elara is Illuminating the Way

Light is essential to human experience. Our entire evolution has been shaped by it. It shapes and influences our sleep cycles, cognitive function, concentration, learning, and many other factors that help define what is considered healthy and productive rest-activity patterns in humans. In the Pre-K12 environment, the design of physical infrastructure and the influence light has on the experience of students and faculty alike cannot be overstated. This insight dives into the importance of lighting infrastructure/design and what Elara is doing to provide design strategies and paths forward for Pre-K12 facilities and architectural partners to maximize the benefits of good lighting design and the positive impacts it can have on students.

Link Between Lighting and Student Performance:

The science linking academic performance, student focus and attention, and other attributes is well established and often obvious. Nonetheless, many studies have been performed that continue to reinforce the correlation between good lighting design fundamentals and academic performance in general.

In 2016, a randomized controlled study at five Illinois high schools showed that maximizing natural lighting to classrooms increased stress recovery and attention of students during tests over classrooms where no natural lighting was provided1.

Many other studies performed since the 1970s have substantiated the seemingly obvious conclusion that adequate light levels within a classroom, whether from natural or artificial sources, maintain visual acuity and perception which is critical during instruction within a classroom. Whether the academic material is being observed at the desk level or further away on a whiteboard/media board, sufficient light levels are paramount for instruction

Balancing Natural and Artificial Lighting:

Balancing the design of natural and artificial lighting in the Pre-K12 environment is crucial to maximizing the performance of students and faculty. Good design should encompass several key elements – adequate brightness, glare minimization, appropriate color temperature control (the ability to alter it based on needs), Color Rendering Index (CRI), and the integration and control of natural and artificial light sources.

In some cases, the special needs of students and building occupants may dictate the design of the artificial lighting systems and their integration with natural lighting as some lighting technologies may contribute to sensory/development issues in certain circumstances. This is one example of why it is best to engage a lighting designer who can select fixtures to meet the design requirements of the space.

Benefits for School Facility Managers:

The 2021 State of Our Schools Report published by the 21st Century School Fund, Well Building Institute, and National Council on School Facilities identified interior lighting and lighting controls as the number two target of opportunity for critical capital investment in existing public-school buildings in the country2. The only piece of building infrastructure to outpace the need for capital investment in lighting in public schools was HVAC/Ventilation. As the following description of benefits indicates, further investment into lighting and lighting control upgrades is paramount to student performance and a school district’s bottom line.

  • Improved Performance: Lighting upgrades can improve the quality and reliability of lighting, which can then enhance the learning environment, student, and teacher satisfaction. Lighting upgrades can also improve the safety and security of facilities by providing adequate and uniform lighting.
  • Reduced Cost: Lighting upgrades can reduce energy and maintenance costs by replacing outdated, inefficient, or faulty lighting systems with newer, more efficient, and longer-lasting ones. Lighting upgrades can also qualify for financial incentives such as rebates, tax credits, and grants from utilities, governments, or organizations.
  • Enhanced Maintenance Efficiencies: With a uniform, standardized lighting system throughout a school district, the need to operate/maintain multiple, different systems is reduced and greater maintenance/operational efficiency can be attained.
  • Increased Sustainability: Lighting upgrades can reduce environmental impacts by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation, and resource consumption associated with lighting use. Lighting upgrades can also demonstrate the commitment of schools and districts to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

Elara’s Process:

The modern approach to lighting design is primarily focused on the implementation of LED technology throughout a facility. To begin this implementation, Elara collaborates with the architectural design team and school personnel to establish project specific requirements for the foundation of the design. As part of this effort, it is imperative that the optimal light levels within each space type be coordinated with the entire design team and that other important factors related to fixture selection and lighting controls are defined to achieve critical performance requirements. With this information and direction, Elara then performs computerized modeling of the lighting design to verify that target footcandles are being met at the classroom task level, glare within the classroom is reduced or eliminated where possible, and fixture quantity and location are optimized for performance and cost-effectiveness. Daylighting calculations will also be performed in perimeter zones to model the interaction between natural lighting and artificial lighting systems within a specific space.

Needs for Controls:

Lighting controls are devices and systems that allow users to manually or automatically adjust the lighting levels, colors, and zones within a space. Lighting controls offer several advantages for Pre-K12 education. Elara’s approach to lighting control design provides the following benefits:

  • Flexibility: Lighting controls can give users the ability to customize the lighting according to their preferences, needs, and tasks. For example, users can dim the lights for a video presentation, change the color temperature for a relaxing atmosphere, or turn off the lights in an unoccupied area.
  • Automation: Lighting controls can use sensors, timers, or schedules to adjust the lighting based on occupancy, daylight, or demand. For example, lighting controls can turn on the lights when someone enters the room, dim the lights when there is enough natural light, or reduce the lighting load during peak hours.
  • Efficiency: Lighting controls can reduce the energy consumption and costs of lighting by optimizing the use of natural and artificial light. By dimming or switching off the lights when they are not needed, lighting controls can save up to 60% of lighting energy.

If you would like to know more about how the design experts at Elara can help with lighting design, please reach out to one of our experts and the authors of this article, Jim Gibson at and Bhupendra Tailor at

In addition to understanding how we can provide value with our design expertise, Elara can also work with you to determine how to best leverage any lighting incentives that may be available through local utility programs.

References and Sources:

1. Impact of views to school landscapes on recovery from stress and mental fatigue: Li & Sullivan, 2016

2. GAO Analysis of August to October 2019 – school district data survey: GAO-20-494