By Johnny Jackson
Officials with The Clean Air Campaign announced recently that Henry County has the third-highest participation rate among counties, state-wide, in the campaign's Clean Air Schools Program.
The campaign reported that Henry County Schools had a 25 percent participation rate for the 2009-10 school year, which included hefty first-year participation from Cotton Indian, East Lake, Hampton, Luella, McDonough, Pate's Creek, Smith-Barnes, and Woodland elementary schools. Dutchtown, Luella, Ola and Union Grove middle schools also took part in the program, along with Ola High School.
Clean Air Schools is a program which encourages students to walk to school, carpool or ride the bus, and encourage school buses to engage in less vehicle idling, said Kevin Green, executive director of The Clean Air Campaign.
Green said the three-year-old program has been a tool to teach students about air quality through lesson plans and on-site events. It also encourages parents and bus drivers to reduce idling on school grounds.
"We had 183 schools that completed the Clean Air Schools requirements in Georgia this school year," Green said. "The schools encompass 23 school districts state-wide."
This year, he said, most participating schools completed the Clean Air Schools' no-idling program, which targets idling school buses and cars. The program, he said, requires school officials to log the number of vehicles which idle at the school during the day, and contrast those numbers with the number of idling vehicles at the school after the school has implemented its no-idling awareness initiatives.
Green noted that schools decreased vehicle idling by nearly half (about 49 percent), during the 2009-10 school year. "This year, we had one school report a 100 percent reduction," he said. "What we generally say is, if you're going to be stopped more than 30 seconds, turn it off."
Green expects more schools will learn about the Clean Air Schools programs and use them as learning tools for students. "We've got a lot of plans to expand the program," he said. "We think this time next year, every school in Henry County should be a 'clean air' school. There is no reason they shouldn't be."
He said the campaign's Clean Air Schools no-idling program is funded by the UPS Foundation and is, therefore, free to schools. "Schools have the flexibility in how they choose to implement the program," he said. "It's basically a turn-key program that schools can implement. We even provide the bolts that you can use to apply to the signage on the poles.
Green believes the program has been beneficial to schools and their communities, particularly in metro Atlanta, in helping create healthier environments with better air quality.
"I don't think school administrators want to stand out and inhale fumes, and it's certainly no good for the students," Green continued. "If kids and parents become aware of air pollution caused by idling vehicles, they'll carry that with them, and it will impact their actions no matter where they are. And we'll see them turn off their vehicles when they don't need to be running."
The Clean Air Schools Program has opened its enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year. Green said those interested in learning more, should visit The Clean Air Campaign web site at www.cleanaircampaign.org.