Inspired by the Eco-Schools USA Healthy Schools Pathway and with the goal of improving air quality in the community, all four Greenpoint Eco-Schools (P.S. 31, P.S. 34, P.S. 110 and M.S. 126) launched No Idling campaigns this spring semester. Idling vehicles contribute to air pollution which is linked to asthma, allergies, and other serious health effects, especially in children, and No Idling posters or signs would remind cars and buses to turn off their engines in front of schools. One of PS 31’s 3rd grade classes participated in the No Idling Poster contest and another 3rd grade class completed an Air Quality Survey around the school. In the survey, students counted the number of street trees, observed traffic conditions, and looked for idling vehicles parked near the school. Since it was almost dismissal time when the class conducted the survey, students even witnessed a few idling cars while parents waited to pick up their kids from school. A few yelled out, “I see idling”! The sharp-eyed students scouted the blocks and determined that the Lorimer Street block, near the entrance to schoolyard, was a good place to install a No Idling sign to remind parents to turn off their car engines during pick-up time. Students also suggested installing a sign on Meserole Avenue in front of the school.
Both classes were recognized and celebrated during a student assembly with a special presentation by George Pakenham. Mr. Pakenham is an anti-idling activist in NYC. He directed the documentary, Idle Threat and is the author of the children’s book, “Big Nose, Big City.” The book was shared with both third grade teachers to read with their classes. Mr. Pakenham is a tireless advocate for improving public health and air quality has encouraged thousands of New Yorkers to turn their car off when not in use.
The No Idling laws seemed to really stick with the students and when Mr. Pakenham asked what the maximum amount of time was for allowing engines to run in front of a school the students responded, “60 seconds, 1 minute!” All participating students received an Eco-Schools certificate and the two winners of the PS 31 poster contest, Matthew Armogan and Namie Irizarry, were awarded National Wildlife stickers. The winning posters from all the schools were printed as metal signs and will be installed outside their respective schools to prevent idling now and in the future. At the end of the assembly we took photos of the winning students wearing a gas mask which sent off a wave of excitement. When asked if they would want to walk around wearing a gas mask because the air quality is so poor, a student from the audience shared, “I wouldn’t want to wear this all the time, we have to keep our air clean!” How exciting to see student’s enthusiasm and designs turned into real local advocacy!
By Alison Schuettinger, Greenpoint Eco-Schools Sustainability Coach @ PS 31