Schools driving force for Clean Air project

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County Public Schools is leading the way in implementing projects to educate students about the importance of clean air, with 30 schools participating in The Clean Air Campaign's education program.

The school district, the largest in Georgia, is home to more than half of the schools that have joined the program this year, officials with the nonprofit organization said.

"We've seen unprecedented interest in the Clean Air Schools program so far this year," said Susan Bacon, director of education for The Clean Air Campaign. "The program is easy to implement and schools can select projects that best fit their needs. Schools can register at any time, and we're anticipating that additional schools will join us as the year progresses."

Clean Air Schools in Gwinnett County include Arcado, Beaver Ridge, Camp Creek, Centerville, Chesney, W.J. Cooper, Corley, Duncan Creek, Dyer, Fort Daniel, B.B. Harris, R.D. Head, Jackson, Kanoheda, McKendree, Meadowcreek, Rebecca Minor, R.L. Norton, Parsons, Peachtree, Puckett's Mill, Simpson, Sugar Hill, Sycamore, K.E. Taylor and Margaret Winn Holt elementary schools, Five Forks and Pinckneyville middle schools, and Brookwood and Norcross high schools.

To participate, schools select one of five projects, but many choose more than one, according to a news release. The projects include:

· A no-idling campaign that reduces harmful smog-forming emissions.

· An educational musical assembly program that features BAIR, the Better Air Bear.

· Georgia Performance Standards-based air quality lesson plans for grades 3 to 12.

· Ride There for Clean Air, a program to encourage bus ridership.

· Walk There for Clean Air, a program to encourage walking to school.

Most of the schools have chosen to implement no-idle campaigns to eliminate unnecessary idling on school grounds, the news release states. The Clean Air Campaign has received a grant from The UPS Foundation to provide the materials needed to employ the no-idle campaigns at no cost to the schools.

"Every thirty minutes spent idling releases three to five pounds of pollution per car into the air around our school," said Bron Gayna Schmit, the principal of Simpson Elementary.

Signs that read "No Idling - Young Lungs at Work" have been posted in the school's carpool lanes and on surrounding streets. Gwinnett County Commissioner Bert Nasuti and the Riverfield Home Owners' Association contributed the signs displayed in neighborhoods in Peachtree Corners.

"Many folks don't realize that idling for 30 seconds wastes more gas that restarting their engines," Nasuti said. "With high gas prices, not idling saves money and helps reduce the smog that contributes to Atlanta's serious air quality issues."

Brookwood and Norcross are among the first high schools in the state to become Clean Air Schools.

"For the first time, high schools can benefit from our education program as well," Bacon said. "The Clean Air Schools no-idle project is an excellent service learning opportunity for high school students. For example, student clubs can take ownership of the program by conducting the 'SurPrize' Patrols themselves to award drivers for not idling. We're excited to follow the progress of our programs in the high school learning environment."

Mary Elizabeth Davis, GCPS' director of science, said environmental education is threaded throughout the district's curriculum at all grade levels. Student and teacher leadership has opened the topic to the community and given families ownership of conservation efforts.

"Students today are entering the work force at a time when an understanding of our natural resource needs will be critical," Davis said.

Those who enter the fields of engineering or research will be confronted with challenges involving natural resources. By learning how people are dependent on their environment and how nature is affected by people, students can develop a desire to preserve our resources, Davis said.

For more information about the Clean Air Schools program or to become a Clean Air School, visit http://CleanAirCampaign.com or e-mail schools@CleanAirCampaign.com.