Ten Pasadena Park Elementary students are acting this week as environmental spies.
Their targets: parents.
The fifth-graders, cloaked in bright orange vests (disguised, you might say, like crossing guards) are timing and counting the cars before and after school that sit idling as parents drop off or pick up their loved ones.
“Most people don’t realize it could really hurt the air and the people who breathe it,” said Kristie Vermillion, one of the 10 students compiling the data.
Pasadena Park is one of four Spokane County schools participating in a program designed to persuade parents to turn off engines while waiting to pick up their kids.
Air pollution surrounding a school is especially problematic because children’s respiratory systems aren’t fully developed, and they breathe at a faster rate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s sitting in a place where all these kids are sucking air,” said Tom Brattebo, the West Valley School District environmental educator who is overseeing the program at Pasadena Park.
After a week of compiling data, Pasadena Park will send parents forms asking them to pledge to turn off their engines in the school parking lot. Classrooms that receive 80 percent participation from parents will get ice cream parties.
The 10 students compiling data noted that numerous parents keep their motors humming while chatting on cell phones, reading the paper or listening to the radio.
There were so many idling cars in a side parking area one afternoon this week that it took an extra concentrated effort from Tyler Stavnes and Paul Vaughn to keep track with their stopwatch and clipboard. Students have recorded drivers idling for as long as 10 minutes.
“We just want it to stop so it doesn’t hurt our air,” said Kaylee Tate. “It’s really disappointing.”
In a few weeks, the students will be back compiling data to see if the program had its intended effect.
Before starting the program, the students didn’t think much about car idling.
“I didn’t even know it was called idling,” Cassie Finn said. “I thought it was like ‘American Idol’ or something.”
But now, students are changing habits.
Armed with the knowledge about pollution, fifth-grader Genna Fisher asked her dad to turn off his car while waiting to pick up food at Rocket Bakery.
Even the principal has changed.
“I know what I know now, so I need to be following through,” said Principal Gayle Van Matre, who has started turning her car off when waiting at railroad crossings.
The other schools participating this year include Mountain View Middle School in Newman Lake and Franklin Elementary in Spokane, said Lisa Woodard, Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority spokeswoman
Woodard, who is coordinating the anti-idling effort in Spokane County, said the authority plans to work with four to six schools each year.
Meanwhile, the Pasadena Park students working on the project remain understanding of the parents picking up and dropping them off.
“It’s good that they make sure their kids get inside,” Genna Fisher said.
“But they can turn off their motors,” added Katie Wee.