Fourth and fifth grade students at High Meadows School were beginning a unit of study on conflict. They were challenged to identify a conflict on campus that was related to our natural resources. There were certainly litter problems, recycling efforts that could be improved, but this had to be a conflict, which by definition must have two opposing viewpoints. Not many people could argue that littering is a good thing, nor that recycling is a bad thing…so they had to dig deeper.
Several students observed that cars seemed to idle their engines during carpool and everyone knows that idling cars cause air pollution. If everyone knows and they do it anyway, then perhaps the conflict is embedded in differing perspectives.
Hmmm...deeper digging would be necessary.
Ok, so students reasoned if people know idling causes pollution, but they do it anyway, perhaps there is something they value more than clean air in that moment. What could that be? Upon further investigation students learned parents had small children in the car during carpool, and with blazing hot temperatures still around in September, it simply wasn’t safe or comfortable to sit in a car without air conditioning. So now we have a conflict! Some people understood that an idling car caused air pollution, and turned off their cars showing their value of clean air. Others not only didn’t fully understand the impact idling had on clean air and the health of kids outside the car, but also perhaps valued the health of their small children inside the car.
Through the use of empathy and compassion, students realized people on both sides of the conflict had valid and reasonable points. This led to students also ruling out the possibility of having a good guy/bad guy situation on either side of the conflict and called into action the need for critical thinking and problem solving.
Through classroom discussion students discovered they weren’t clear on what was fact and fiction regarding the impact of idling cars on the quality of air. Students sought out a clean air expert from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and invited him to educate them on the science behind car idling.
They discovered many beliefs they held were not based in science, including arguments on both sides of the conflict. They felt empowered and compelled to share their findings with our larger school community. By now they fully understood that a negative and shaming message would do nothing but alienate the audience they wished to convince. They had to find a way to empower the parents with information and provide solutions.
After taking a survey to learn how many cars were idling, students decided an educational campaign during Clean Commute Week in October could be the path to success.
Next step was to synthesize the information they had learned from the CDC into attention-catching posters while keeping the message positive. Although challenging, the students prevailed and for three days during Clean Commute Week they walked the carpool line with their original and convincing signs. They also handed out no idling stickers and answered any questions parents had about idling. The students were thrilled when the Clean Air Campaign BAIR came to assist their efforts!
This entire process resulted in the students using empathy and compassion to convince 99% of our carpooling parents to turn their cars off! Students also decided on a follow-up campaign that will take place the week before Earth Day in April to remind our parents of their commitment to Clean Air!
Michelle Aldenderfer-Griffin is an Environmental Education Teacher/Coordinator at High Meadows School in Roswell
Big Shanty Intermediate School's "Green Team" was proud to promote Clean Commute Week last October! To raise awareness about the dangers of idling, my fifth grade class rallied the school by creating “No Idling” signs, which were placed at the entrance of the school with scarecrows we created. We were able to obtain quite a few signs thanks to the support of Kessler’s Team Sports in Woodstock. The signs included “did you know” facts about idling, that we were able to obtain off of The Clean Air Campaign’s website.
One of the activities that students really enjoyed was reading facts about the benefits of clean commuting during morning announcements. We also invited BAIR, The Clean Air Campaign mascot to our school to walk the campus during afternoon announcements. The students just loved their time with BAIR.
One of the highlights of the week was a school-wide competition to see which class made the “greenest commute” choice during the week. We surveyed each class on the Friday before Clean Commute Week to find out of how each child gets to school. We then promoted greener ways of commuting like riding their bikes, taking the bus and carpooling. At the end of the week we collected the survey again and found that several students made greener commute choices. Not only did we do a part to reduce pollution, we also received great feedback from parents, staff, and students about how successful they felt the week went!
Last but not least, we had a student from our BSEN (in-school) news channel interview Joey Giunta, a Clean Air Campaign representative, about the benefits of “No Idling” and making greener commute choices. We also interviewed our School Nurse, Bev Jones, RN, who informed us of the asthma epidemic in our school and community.
We feel that Big Shanty is benefitting greatly from promoting The Clean Air Campaign and Clean Commute Week is a great platform for us to do so.
Jamee Douglas is a fifth grade teacher at Big Shanty Intermediate School in Kennesaw, GA.