May is Clean Air Awareness Month and Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month. In Arlington Public Schools, students have made efforts toward cleaner air. Many students have been working to ensure that their communities understand the impact of vehicle idling on student health and the environment and to inspire drivers to commit to reducing vehicle idling!
EcoAction Arlington received a grant from the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund that allowed the non-profit organization to offer mini-grants to Arlington schools undertaking clean air projects. Schools were able to apply for up to $750. Read more about the mini-grants here.
The schools receiving the mini-grants were Claremont Elementary School, Jamestown Elementary School, Gunston Middle School, Arlington Career Center, and Wakefield High School.
Claremont Elementary used its mini-grant funds to purchase permanent bilingual No Idling signs and an additional sandwich board sign.
The permanent signs were installed in early May.
On May 17, patrols handed out information along with No Idling window clings to vehicles while encouraging drivers to turn off their engines.
Claremont parent and Viva Verde club co-sponsor Connie Chubb was the one who applied for the mini-grant and who led up the project. She is glad to have the permanent signs in and said the sandwich board will be used during anti-idling campaigns or special events when it seems appropriate, possibly at the beginning of the school year.
At Jamestown Elementary, the 5th grade GREEN Team promoted an anti-idling program during Air Quality Awareness Week, April 29-May 3, 2019. This team of students made posters and displayed purchased signs at drop off/pick up areas around the school all week long.
The team worked closely with the 5th grade Walking Patrols (who help students get in/out of cars) and Bus Patrols to thank drivers for not idling. They made color copies of the Idle Free Schools flyer created by the Environmental Health and Asthma Subcommittee to hang throughout the school, in addition to sending it electronically to families on Peachjar.
Additionally, they put signs and posters in the display case of the school’s front entrance for all students to see.
Kathleen Freeman, Jamestown’s Outdoor Educator, applied for the mini-grant and was the coordinator in charge of helping the GREEN Team accomplish their goals.
Kathleen said of the initiative:
“The 5th grade Green Team students and Walking Patrol students really got into it and had fun in the mornings. I knew it was catching on when I heard other students saying ‘turn the key, be idle free.’ The 4th graders (all four classes!) even brought it up during our watersheds lesson that week. A few parents told me they hadn’t even thought about idling until we brought it to their attention. They now know the 10 second rule and will reduce their idling! And we purposely left the date off the purchased signs so that we can use them again next year.”
Connections across schools
The story of these efforts at local elementary schools shows how much good comes from sharing in community. And how sometimes good things take time!
In 2016, the Environmental Health & Asthma Subcommittee (EHAS) of the APS School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) teamed up with with EcoAction Arlington (then Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment) to do an idling survey of 160 participants around the community that identified vehicle idling near schools as a regular occurrence. Of those who completed the survey, 74% observed cars idling at least three minutes at a time and over 50% of respondents indicated that idling occurred frequently or on a daily basis. Some respondents indicated seeing cars idle for 20 minutes or more.
Then EHAS held a Clean Air Awareness Month event in May 2017 that included students’ creative PSAs about Clean Air.
In May 2018, EHAS teamed up again with EcoAction Arlington for a Clean Air Awareness Community Forum.
Among the many resources offered in the Forum presentation was the EPA Idle-Free Toolkit, which includes a plethora of resources, including video resources, sample presentations, guidelines for involving students, sample letters, brochures and flyers, pledge forms and much more. After viewing the Forum presentation, Claremont parent Connie Chubb, already a volunteer with ACE/EcoAction Arlington and a trained Energy Master, got involved with EHAS.
Connie was inspired by a photo former APS parent and EHAS co-chair Amy Thomas shared with EHAS members about a no-idling sandwich board sign she saw at Sidwell Friends school in the District. Connie set out to undertake a no idling campaign at Claremont and then shared information about the idea and about the mini-grant with Jamestown’s Kathleen Freeman. Then, another EHAS member, Dana Cook, a parent at Key Elementary who had not applied for the mini-grants heard what Connie had done, and went on order three signs to post along the fence around Key’s schoolyard.
For those curious about costs, the sandwich board sign was round $100. The signs on posts were around $50 each with an additional fee of around $30 for a post kit. The clings, 3.75” in diameter were about $30 for 50 clings. Expenses for Jamestown and Claremont also included color copies.
Arlington Career Center
The mini-grant-funded programs at the secondary level took a different approach to clean air.
Students at the Arlington Career Center are in a unique position to help advocate for the health of their new campus over the next few years.
Science teacher Cynthia Kotakis and HILT Resource Teacher Michael Cruse worked with HILT B students enrolled in Environmental Studies to perform indoor and outdoor air quality assessments in strategic locations. This included researching about native trees and plants that improve air quality.
Once air quality measures were collected, the teachers began working with students to interpret this data and use maps to create a visual display of the air quality conditions. The teachers have documented the project on Twitter.
Students will soon present their findings to the building architects who are working with APS to plan for the campus re-development. Students will also make recommendations to the Career Center administration for ways to improve both indoor and outdoor air quality using native trees and plants.
Teachers will be invited to take the plants home at the end of the year.
Wakefield High School
At Wakefield High School, the mini-grant allowed for the creation of a portable solar recharging station station in the library. The library secretary who applied for the grant, Dan Redmond, has led photovoltaic (PV) demonstrations for APS students for over a decade, using his personal PV panels and accessories.
With the mini-grant funds, he purchased for Wakefield a Renogy Rugged 400W Solar Generator, which he connected to his personal 100 W Renogy PV panel. The solar generator transfers DC power from the panels into consistent pure AC electricity, which is required to charge electronic devices.
The generator was installed in the Wakefield High School library and adjacent courtyard, where students come to study during lunch and after school. Students use the solar battery charging station to recharge their school-issued laptops at this recharging station.
In his report to EcoAction Arlington, Michael said, “Our faculty and students are grateful for an opportunity to reduce emissions generated from computer use while learning about the scalable potential of renewable energy… The PV charging station in the library has become a gathering point with students. The station is an informal hub of discussions about environmental, health and social justice topics.”
He added: “Successes and lessons-learned from this renewable charging station project can be a model for future PV charging stations throughout the school system. I think students gain a better understanding of renewable energy when they see how each component in the system operates. Because our PV system in front of the desk can transfer sunshine into electricity in real-time, students can see immediate, scalable impact of renewable energy to solve a real-world, relatable problem. Solar panels on a school roof may not have impact on an individual learner.”
At this writing, Gunston Middle School’s project is not yet complete. This post will be updated when it is.
On Sustainability in APS and Arlington
Information about applying for the school mini-grants was shared in the fall of 2018 through outreach by EcoAction Arlington and the Environmental Health and Asthma Subcommittee (EHAS) of the School Health Advisory Board (SHAB), and directly with APS Sustainability Liaisons.
APS launched the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability in 2012. Starting in 2016, APS began the Sustainability Liaison program with 10 liaisons who received stipends to take on sustainability projects at schools. The program expanded to 15 schools in 2017-18. and to 16 schools in 2018-19.
EcoAction Arlington executive director (and APS parent) Elenor Hodges has served on the Sustainability Committee since its inception and has served as EHAS co-chair since 2017. The organization intended to use some of the original Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund grant money toward a showing of the documentary Idle Threat in January 2019, but the event was canceled for inclement weather and has not yet been rescheduled.
The EHAS working group of SHAB has, in addition to collaborating with EcoAction Arlington on community education about clean air, been working with Arlington Public Schools regarding air quality concerns. EHAS was instrumental in the development of the APS Handwashing Policy.
Additional issues raised with APS staff and county health officials have included
- bus emissions, bus idling and the impact of all vehicle idling on air quality
- fragranced products and other respiratory irritants that negatively impact indoor air quality
- the connection between asthma and absenteeism
- turf fields
At present, EHAS working with staff on revisions to be made to the air quality section of the APS Wellness Policy Implementation Procedures (PIP).
The next EHAS meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12, 10:00-11:30 a.m. in Fairlington Community Center room 103. All are welcome.
The meeting will review past efforts and look to the future. For those unfamiliar with the activities of EHAS, its 2017 Clean Air Awareness Celebration mentioned above included speakers and exhibitors from within and outside APS, including the Bike Arlington, American Lung Association, Moms Clean Air Force, County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol, Elizabeth Denton of Arlington Transportation Partners, Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Levi Novey of the APS Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and School Board Member Barbara Kanninen as well as current EHAS co-chairs Jessica Haney and Elenor Hodges and then-EHAS co-chair Amy Thomas.
The idling survey that preceded this event and the events that followed have paved the way for the successful school programs funded by mini-grants this year.
In order for EHAS to continue to effect broader change, additional EHAS members from APS and from the wider community and/or stronger collaborations with other local groups are needed. Join the work toward clean air!
As the co-chair of EHAS for three years, I hope the group can collaborate with the county toward committing to being a truly green community that actively limits unnecessary idling of county vehicles and that strives to educate the public about the negative impact of idling on the air we all breathe.
These clean air student projects described above are the result of several years of efforts on the part of EHAS and EcoAction Arlington and partners. They offer hope that APS and Arlington will strive toward policies and initiatives that prioritize the health of their inhabitants and the earth.
If these events inspire you, let us know or, better yet, show up at the June 12 EHAS meeting!
Jessica Claire Haney is the founder, publisher and editor of Mindful Healthy Life and the author of its Guide to Holistic Family Living in Metro DC. A mother of two, Jessica founded the Arlington/Alexandria Chapter of Holistic Moms Network and volunteers on school wellness issues. Follow on Facebook at MindfulHealthyLife, on @