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A fresh approach: Students do their part for clean air

LILBURN - Savannah and Samantha St. Germain ride the bus from their home on the outskirts of Snellville to their elementary school near Lilburn.

But the bus the 10-year-old twin girls boarded on Wednesday morning doesn't burn diesel fuel. In fact, it doesn't even have an engine.

The fifth-graders, along with 40 other students from R.D. Head Elementary, participated in the inaugural journey of the Walking School Bus. The students - most of whom live in the Hills of Brookwood, Brooks Farm and Rivermist subdivisions - carried a school bus made of felt on their half-mile trek.

"It was like the real thing, but walking," Savannah said. "I think it was fun, but it was a long walk."

Samantha agreed the event, billed as Walk on Wednesday, was fun. She said she and her schoolmates encouraged passing motorists to honk.

The event is one of three projects the school is doing to maintain its standing as a Better Air School, said Brooke Barnes, the education outreach coordinator for the Clean Air Campaign. The project was designed to promote healthy choices for students and to reduce traffic congestion in the area, she said.

Shann Griffith, a physical education teacher at Head Elementary, said participation Wednesday may have been low because parents weren't sure how the program would work. There were 14 adults present to chaperone the group, and Griffith said she wants to encourage more students to participate in subsequent events, scheduled to take place Wednesday mornings through the end of October.

"I'd like to invite as many children to walk as possible," she said. "If a lot of people do it, it will have a cumulative effect ... and make a difference."

The elementary school has a large percentage of students suffering from asthma, and clean air is important for their health, she said. Griffith said she encourages students who can't walk to school to form a carpool or ride the bus.

Head Elementary also runs an anti-idling campaign and holds a smog alert awareness event, Barnes said. Minor Elementary, Ivy Creek Elementary and Notre Dame Academy are also participating this year in the Better Air Schools program.