Easthampton fourth-graders launch campaign against car idling

  • Students in Ryan Pickard's fourth-grade class stand in front of Maple Street School in Easthampton, where they are working to change parents’ habits of idling their cars in front of the school. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Kottrell, a parent of a 4th grader and 3rd grader at Maple Street school in Easthampton, waits in his car to pick up his children. The 4th graders are working to change the parents habits of idling in front of the school. Kottrell says he does not idle while waiting, "Its a waste of money," he said. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Megan Gingras walks her daughter Bella LaFortune to her care at Maple Street school in Easthampton. The 4th graders are working to change the parents habits of idling in front of the school. Gingras said,"its not hard on a warm day but its tough when its cold." —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students in Ryan Pickard’s fourth-grade class stand in front of Maple Street School in Easthampton where they are working to change parents’ habits of idling their cars in front of the school. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Paula Garcia, a parent of one of the 4th grade students holds a sign in front of Maple Street School in Easthampton where the students are working to change parents habits of idling in front of the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 3/25/2019 11:58:40 PM

EASTHAMPTON — In the afternoons, parents line their cars in front of Maple Elementary School to pick up their children. To find out how much pollution idling cars are spewing into the atmosphere, you don’t have to ask a scientist. You can ask a fourth-grader.

Over the course of two days, students at the elementary school conducted a study to determine how much pollution idling cars were emitting while parked in front of the building. Students discovered that there were nearly 3.78 gallons of pollution produced in that time, and an “anti-idling” campaign is now underway. A state law limits unnecessary engine idling to five minutes.

“People idle without thinking about it and I was shocked with the overall amount of time people were idling,” said Judy Averill, the school’s principal. A parent approached Averill in early February concerned with the number of cars idling outside the school and how long cars were left idling.

Students made posters to put up outside the school to discourage idling cars and even created an anti-idling pledge for parents, teachers, and staff to sign. At an all-school assembly on Wednesday, students will post the signs and the pledges will be tallied.

Letters were sent to bus drivers, delivery truck drivers, teachers and staff asking drivers to eliminate idling anytime they are waiting for more than 10 minutes.

Paula Garcia, a parent of a fourth-grader at Maple, wanted to bring more awareness to how much pollution idling cars were emitting and asked Averill to come in one day to present information on idling to students.

After spending 20 minutes with Ryan Pickard’s fourth-grade class, where Garcia presented the topic of idling and had a discussion with students, Garcia says she left students with a question: “Is idling a problem at Maple School?”

The California Children’s Health Study, ongoing since 1993, measures lung function of thousands of schoolchildren over five-to-seven-year periods, and it has found that exposure to vehicle fumes can cause a reduction in lung capacity.

While Easthampton is far from a sprawling metropolis such as Los Angeles, its air quality ranks poorly. The American Lung Association has consistently given Hampshire County low marks in its “State of the Air” report, with the county receiving a D in 2018, a C in 2017, and an F in 2016.

Garcia, with the help of Easthampton residents Connie Dawson and Shelly Greenstein, got students talking about car emissions.

“My idea was for kids to be the ones to talk to parents,” Garcia said.

Fourth-graders at Maple conducted their own research by adding up all the minutes they saw people idling over the course of two days, and found that cars idled for a total of 320 minutes. Multiplying that number by 0.0118, the number of gallons of carbon dioxide released per minute by a car, the students found approximately 3.776 gallons of emissions across two days.

Pickard said students spent 35 minutes in two days to record their data.

“When they started reading about air pollution it was shocking to them,” Pickard said. In reference to the report by the American Lung Association, she said, “In the Pioneer Valley, we talked about how air can settle and we have to be careful about that.”

Garcia said she hopes Maple Elementary School can serve as a model for other schools and that the Easthampton School Committee can adopt an anti-idling policy for all the city’s schools.




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