Emerald Heights No Idling Project
Emerald Heights students put their heads together to end idling
Posted on 08/17/2023
Did you know that vehicles at Emerald Heights Elementary School emit approximately six pounds of carbon dioxide per day? Or that families spend around $113 per year on fuel while idling? 

The fourth and second graders in Ms. Fleck and Ms. Coombe’s classes at Emerald Heights could tell you about that – and more. 

Fleck and Coombe’s classes put their heads together and created a no-idling campaign with one goal in mind: To decrease air pollution and make the school a safer place for its students, future and present. 

“Hopefully I get to see healthier people and we can make the school a better and safer place,” said Katie, a student involved in the project. 

The project was sparked from a class Fleck and Coombe took at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island, which provided them with the tools needed to implement a student-led project to research and solve local air quality problems in accordance with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Elementary is Elementary (EIE) curriculum. 

At first, students were overwhelmed by the facts and figures around the impact of air pollution. But it didn’t take long for Fleck’s second graders and Coombe’s fourth graders to put their plans into action. 

Three photos, to the left two students hugging, middle picture of a sign, right a photo of fabric birds

“Our kids already have high anxieties about climate change. When we first started researching the impacts of climate change and the problem with air quality, students were overwhelmed by the complexity of the issue,” Fleck said, “but after we discussed how they can make a change at the local level, that other communities were doing the same, and that they could work as a team, students were more hopeful.”

Students tested the current air quality in their parking lot by setting up pollution catchers, shaped like the wings of a bird, coated in petroleum jelly to see which areas in the school had the most visible pollution – unsurprisingly, the catchers near the parking lot where cars are frequently idled were the dirtiest. 

Students also learned about renewable and non-renewable energy sources. They created an explanatory map of the school ecosystem and identified positive and negative sources that may impact air quality. 

Along with other data they collected around the school, like the average amount of cars idling in the student pickup area at Emerald Heights, students crafted materials to go with their campaign. 

“They wanted to make a difference and encourage buy-in from families and community members using multiple angles, “Coombe said. “So they thought about advertising and using writing hooks to promote not only the health benefits, but the cost benefits associated with not idling to expand their message and encourage the buy-in they hope for.” 

Breaking up into teams, students produced brochures, designed websites and web posters, edited videos, and wrote letters to government representatives and CK superintendent Dr. Erin Prince. 

They also wrote a grant asking the Emerald Heights’ PTA for the money to purchase signs and banners warning about the dangers of idling. The banners and posters will be hung up and staked around campus at the start of the 2023-24 school year. 

“I haven’t seen any changes yet,” said Gabby, another student involved in the project, “but I feel good trying to make the school healthier.” 

Seeing their students captivated by the project was the ultimate pay off for Fleck and Coombe.

“Students were definitely engaged and excited to problem-solve the issue,” Fleck said. “The real-world and relevancy of the problem to their lives ignited a passion in my students that drove the learning. I remember looking around at one point and feeling amazed at the level of involvement - students working on writing tasks, video scripts, artwork for signage and calculating rates of emissions, among other things, and all drawing on their individual talents, interests, and skills.”
Students listening to instructions