Huge Reduction in Auto Idling at China Grove Middle School
11/09/10 by Kathy Chaffin
For eighth graders Michaela Teeter and Ryan Turney, being part of China Grove Middle School's “No Idling” pilot program offered them an opportunity to learn about the hazards of air pollution and the chance to do something about it.
Michaela said educating parents on the danger idling poses to Rowan County's already poor air quality led most to turn off their vehicles while waiting in line to pick up their children. “We made such a big difference,” she said.
Ryan said improving air quality is critical for the more than 3,000 Rowan County students suffering from asthma. “The air quality affects asthma along with many other respiratory illnesses,” she said.
Students and teachers involved in the six-week program designed by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College said once parents learned how much harm that idling their vehicles posed to the environment, the overwhelming majority wanted to do something about it.
At least half of the parents picking up car riders were idling when members of the China Grove Middle Green Team started their No-Idling program despite the posted signs saying, “Turn Off Your Engine: Kids Breathe Here.”
Some parents idled their vehicles more than 40 minutes, according to sixth-grade social services teacher Jim Wohlgemuth, one of the Green Team advisers. After the media blitz only two cars idled more than four minutes during the entire measurement period, and nearly all the rest were well under two minutes. “That is a huge reduction from the multiple ones idling 28, 30, even 42 minutes that we saw before,” said Shelia Armstrong, air quality outreach coordinator for the Center for the Environment.
For the first phase of the program, Green Team members gathered in the parking lot from about 2:45 to 3:45, counting vehicles and using stopwatches to time how long they idled while waiting in line. To get an accurate measure, they told parents who asked that they were doing it for a math project.
Later, as part of a media blitz, students returned to the parking lot wearing masks, distributing information on air quality issues and talking to parents about the damage idling causes.
Armstrong had informed the Green Team that Rowan had received a grade of F from the American Lung Association for its air quality and was ranked in its 2010 State of the Air report as the 17th worst county in the United States for health risks from ozone. Rowan County does not meet the current Environmental Protection Agency standards for ozone.
Michaela Teeter's mother, Debbie, said she didn't realize Rowan ranked so poorly in air quality. “I'm really proud of the kids and how hard they worked,” she said. “I hope it made a difference and that it will be an ongoing thing.
“Michaela's all about conserving and recycling and protecting the environment, so I think she was really pleased with the outcome.”
Green Team members also distributed educational materials explaining that idling not only damages air quality; it also wastes money.
Chorus teacher Becky Morris, another Green Team adviser, said the school's health teacher, Lisa Faggart, helped increase awareness about asthma by having students participate in a project during which they exercised while breathing through a normal-sized straw so they would understand what it's like to have their airways restricted – a common occurrence for even healthy people on ozone action days. She then had them repeat the exercise while trying to breathe through a more narrow straw typically used to stir coffee. That helped them understand what it’s like to have asthma.
“She said it opened the kids' eyes to what it's like,” Morris said. “Once you experience something like that, you never forget it.”
As part of the No Idling program, students set up air quality displays for parents to read as they drove to pick up their children from a dance and distributed stickers for windshields to remind drivers to turn their engines off. The Center of the Environment also provided displays and materials for the Green Team to set up as part of a Booster Club fundraiser.
In addition, Morris directed her show choir in a play titled “The Awful Eight,” which targeted the eight main contributors to air pollution. The play was filmed, and segments were shown in the school.
Members of the Green Team said an article in the Salisbury Post also contributed to the success of the program.
Green Team adviser Lisa Perone, who teaches business at the school, said she was very pleased with the success of the program, which the Center for the Environment plans to use as a model for other schools to follow.
“In the Rowan-Salisbury School System, we're the smallest middle school of seven,” she said, “and here this little bitty middle school has impacted not only its campus, but its community, its state and quite possibly the nation.”
Armstrong said information about the China Grove Middle No-Idling program will be placed on the Center for the Environment website for other schools to follow. The Center is presently working with the Cabarrus County Schools and Kannapolis City Schools on starting No-Idling programs.
As a reward for their hard work and successful program, the Center for the Environment hosted a Reward Day for key members of the Green Team. Accompanied by adviser Connie Christman, art teacher at China Grove Middle, they were treated to lunch, given a tour of the center and an opportunity to hear about its programs and observe demonstrations.
Morris said Armstrong and the other Center for the Environment staff went out of their way to help the Green Team with the No-Idling program, not only loaning them exhibits and other materials, but educating them on air quality issues and offering suggestions and encouragement along the way.
“What we're really hoping is that it will be a lasting behavior change,” she said, “and that the lower idling will last in spite of the weather. We hope it will stick and that the wonderful ripple effect will just continue out.”
The China Grove Middle School Green Team strives to teach students to do everything they can to protect the environment. “If enough people do the small things,” she said, “the big things will take care of themselves.”
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country.