Kids' ornaments promote alternative transportation

LAWRENCEVILLE - This holiday season, Christmas ornaments will feature buses, trains, bikes and feet. Local elementary school students are designing ornaments that stress environmental friendliness through alternative forms of transportation.

The ornaments will be hung next month as part of the Festival of Trees in Atlanta. R.D. Head, Parsons and Minor elementary schools will all share one tree, which will follow the theme of "Walking in a Clean Air Wonderland."

Each school contributed a garland of feet for the tree, which signifies the benefits of walking to school. The kids colored and decorated cut-outs of other forms of transportation, including school buses, trains, bikes and cars.

"I think it really helped them because when they did the cars, they had tons of people hanging out of the cars. They really understand carpooling. They're very aware of the environment," said Patty Grindo, a teacher and the Better Air coordinator for Minor Elementary.

The elementary schools are among 20 metro Atlanta schools participating in the Better Air Schools program this year.

This is the second year of the program, organized through the Clean Air Campaign Inc.

Those participating in the Better Air Schools campaign can choose which environmental projects they want to implement in their schools. There is a smog alert awareness program, air quality lesson plans, a program to increase bus ridership and another to encourage walking to school.

"In order to understand air quality concepts, we focus on education, which in turn increases the level of awareness within the school," said Michelle Waters, education outreach coordinator for the Clean Air Campaign.

All of the schools implemented an anti-idling campaign, which encourages parents to turn their engines off when they are waiting to pick their kids up from school. Parsons, Head and Minor have all put up signs that read, "No idling. Little lungs at work." Occasionally the Clean Air Campaign will send a "surprise patrol" to award prizes to parents who don't idle.

"It's just made them more aware. We've had a lot of success with the anti-idling campaign," said Teri St. Germain, the environmental coordinator of the R.D. Head PTA.

Several schools have also invited the Better Air Bear to present a musical assembly program for students.

The 7-foot-tall mascot gives kids information on sources of air pollution, the importance of healthy air and lungs and how their families can help.

The schools hold days in which students are encouraged to walk to school rather than be driven to school by their parents.

Minor Elementary asked students to walk every Friday in October, and will have walking school buses again in April.

Bus ridership has also increased since the schools implemented the Better Air Schools campaign.

The students' alternative transportation ornaments will be on display from Dec. 1 to Dec. 11 at the World Congress Center.

Proceeds from the Festival of Trees will support Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

For more information, call 877-CLEANAIR or visit www.cleanaircampaign.com.