No Idling Campain

Working to Solve Air Pollution

Third graders scientists went on a full-scale crusade to get parents, bus drivers and delivery vans to stop idling their engines — particularly while waiting in front of the school buildings. Idling engines, they say, creates pollution and causes sickness in children and other living things. And they want it to stop.

The students-turned activists began their campaign after studying air pollution as part of their third-grade science studies. One of their experiments required them to coat index cards with Vaseline and post them throughout the school's interior and exterior locations. After a week, the cards were collected and examined to determine how much particulate matter stuck to the petroleum jelly. Not surprisingly, the index cards from outside the building, closest to the street, were significantly dirtier.

The students developed hypotheses to explain this finding. They observed the activity around the school's plaza and concluded that exhaust from idling cars, buses and trucks was a significant cause of the dirtier air. They carted their findings and examined the index cards under microscopes.

Impassioned by their findings, the students set about organizing a campaign to "stop idling" around our school. They drafted signs and posters. They "ratted out" a few of their own parents! They discussed and agreed upon a narrow set of circumstances in which idling might be allowable: keeping a police or emergency vehicle ready for instant response; staying warm if conditions are life-threatening.

The students decided that the issue was not only local; they wrote letters and drew charts for Head of School Steve Nelson, asking for his help in educating the community. The result was swift: Posters went up in the school lobbies and e-mails were sent to parents about the No Idling rule (the city, in fact, has a 3-minute idling limit that was not being enforced).

The project culminated in a public dedication ceremony, marking the posting of the official "No Idling" signs on the school's front gate. The ribbon-cutting event was highlighted by congratulatory remarks from a member of Mayor Bloomberg's office and the local non-profit organization, Transportation Alternatives.

"This was learning through authentic experience," said Steve Nelson. "This was genuinely student-centered and experiential. One would strain to find a more powerful and direct connection between learning in school and participating in society. This activity spawned scientific inquiry, data analysis, interdisciplinary understanding, political action, group work, persuasive writing, dialogue with various adults, and much more."