Butler students are 'idle free
A school parking lot can be a dangerous place for students. Although most people would think first of cars hitting them, the air pollution that gathers in school lots can also threaten their well-being.
Butler Elementary teachers are working to remedy this problem by educating students, parents and their community about one of the biggest--and most easily avoidable--causes of air pollution in parking lots--idling cars. To start, the school held an Idle Free Week campaign Oct.15-17.
“What we’re doing in our parking lot affects our children,” said Johanna Smith, the parent volunteer in charge of Idle Free Week.
To kick off the week, Breathe Utah Outreach and Education Coordinator Erin Mendenhall spoke to Butler students in an assembly. She explained to them what pollution is, where it comes from, and how it can hurt them. Children are even more vulnerable to it than adults, she told them, because they play outside more, breathe faster and therefore more often, and their still-developing lungs are affected more by exposure to chemicals.
“We [at Breathe Utah] try to teach air quality science,” Mendenhall said. “We feel that’s something even kids can understand.”
Mendenhall also told students about how adults can cause less pollution and protect students’ health. Getting rid of all cars is impractical, of course, but just by doing a few simple things like riding bikes more often instead of driving, and not idling cars in parking lots, adults can make a big difference without sacrificing much.
In fact, not idling cars can be very economical. It only takes 10 seconds of idling for a car to use more gas than it would take to turn it off and back on again, she said. According to surveys conducted by Butler’s students, 1,018 gallons of gas (about $3,800 worth) was idled away in the school parking lot in just three days, Smith said.
Since Butler’s students will not be driving cars themselves for years, the main purpose of this assembly was to give them information to pass along to family members who do drive.
“The kids are learning in order to teach the parents,” Smith said.
The fifth and sixth grade students also made anti-idling posters on the first day, with some help from Brighton High’s student body officers. The next day, Butler students spelled out “Idle Free” in the school’s chain-link fence with Dixie cups. They ended the campaign with a rally after school, holding up their posters outside to encourage their neighbors to stop idling cars as well.
The hope is that the campaign will result in cleaner air in and around the school and parking lot, and that everyone involved will understand how much it matters for even one person to change their habits to protect their children and everyone else’s, Smith said.
“We really can make a difference in our air quality,” she said.