Today marks the kickoff of The Clean Air Campaign’s first ever Clean Commute Week. The idea for Clean Commute Week came from a group a parents from Evansdale Elementary’s PTA Green Team, who introduced the idea last year during International Walk to School Day. The successful initiative earned the school the Marlin Gottschalk Environmental Leadership Award at The Clean Air Campaign’s recent PACE Awards ceremony in August.

As Evansdale Elementary celebrated International Walk to School day last fall, we noticed some sad faces from children who had taken the bus. Walking and biking is great and means cleaner air and healthy exercise, but for children who cannot walk or bike, riding the bus is a safe and green way to come to school. 

As a magnet school, Evansdale has many children who live far away from school and can’t walk, and who cannot feasibly ride a bus. For them, the cleanest possible commute is to share a ride with other families. So last spring we decided to turn Georgia Walk to School Day into Evansdale Elementary’s Clean Commute Week, honoring all the different ways that children can come to school that are good for the environment.  Our goal was to encourage and celebrate sustainable habits that are feasible and easy for families to adopt. We created a “Clean Commute Log” and asked students to document their commute to and from school each day for a week. To our delight, the students and their parents responded enthusiastically to this idea.  We held mini celebrations with prizes from The Clean Air Campaign for “Take the Bus Tuesday”, “Walking Wednesday” and “Ride together Friday”.  In addition, we had students add their name to a paper cut-out of a foot, bus or car to represent their type of commute. We then added the cut-outs to a large display in the foyer of the school.  Luckily we had cut out enough footprints, school buses, and carpool cars to represent each clean commuting student – the challenge was fitting them all on the display space!

If good habits can be formed when young, they may become lifelong habits.  And children – once their awareness has been raised – can become great advocates for environmental behaviors. So it seemed a good idea to encourage Evansdale Elementary students to clean commute – it would mean healthy exercise for those who walked or rode bikes and cleaner air for everyone if students carpooled or rode school buses instead of coming in many individual cars.  And if they did it during Clean Commute Week, maybe they’d form the habit and do it often. That was our hope.

This year at Evansdale we are celebrating clean commutes every Wednesday. Each student who walks, rides a bike or bus or carpools with another family receives a stamp and is entered into a monthly drawing to receive a prize and “Clean Commuter of the Month” certificate.  The students are enthusiastically participating and are proud to be a part of making our community a better place. 

Angie Claussen, Monica Castro, and Susanna Binzen are the 2010-11 PTA Green Team Chairs at Evansdale Elementary in DeKalb County.