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The City Journals

Altara Elementary students pledge to promote clean air during idle-free week

Jan 20, 2017 12:40PM ● By Julie Slama

Members of Altara Elementary Student Council hold up signs, reminding drivers to turn off their engines while waiting to pick up their students up after school. (Cindy Boyer/Altara Elementary PTA)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]
When Canyons School District pledged to become idle-free, it didn’t go unnoticed.
Altara Elementary parent Cindy Boyer, who pushed the idle-free movement, has rallied behind the students, helping them keep the “turn the key, become idle-free” campaign alive through an idle-free awareness week, Jan. 9–12.
“We’re trying to educate students so they can share the importance of being idle-free with their parents,” Boyer said.  “The air is horrible, especially in January with the inversion, so when we can teach our families how to lessen it, we’re taking a step in the right direction.”
The week started off with the student council performing a skit that was filmed and shown to each grade and posted on Altara’s Facebook page. Students also signed pinwheels as a pledge to help transform drivers’ behaviors to become idle-free. These pinwheels were displayed in front of the school and later in the school gym.
The week not only included student council members holding up idle-free signs, but also a chance for kids to take home questions about being idle-free to discuss with their parents. When students returned the paper and checked answers, students with the correct answers received prizes.
“We want students to talk to their parents so they understand that even by doing a little, such as stopping idle, they are contributing to promoting healthier air,” Boyer said.
During an April 2016 Salt Lake County Health Department tally of cars idling outside of three Canyons School District schools during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times, 101 cars idled for more than the two-minute time limit set by Salt Lake County’s no-idling ordinance. If those 10 hours and 54 minutes of idling time were to be multiplied by the 180 days school is in session, that would tally 1,962 hours of cars idling at schools, the district released in a statement.
“We want to have this idle-free week to protect the air we breathe to eliminate bad air that gets trapped in our valleys by the mountains,” Principal Nicole Svee Magann told students at the Jan. 11 school assembly with Superintendent Jim Briscoe and members of the board of education invited as special guests.
Briscoe told students he wants the air to be clean for them to breathe while they play outside.
“We have 34,000 students in Canyons School District and it’s our responsibility to keep our schools safe,” Briscoe said. “Our whole district is the leader in the state of Utah, helping to keep our environment better with cleaner air.”
During the assembly, student winners — two winners and two runners-up of the week’s idle-free art contest — were announced. All four students — David Ash, Giselle Sullivan, Bethany Wood and Chelsea Perez Rio — received prizes, and the artwork of the winners, Giselle and Chelsea, will be displayed on a permanent vinyl banner that will hang outside the school.
Students also learned from Breathe Utah’s education coordinator Dawn Monson and Wasatch Front presenter Terry Aragon that particulate pollution, or PM2.5, is the major ingredient in winter pollution. 
Students pledged to commit to make a change and skateboard, walk and bike to school more to decrease the amount of PM2.5 in the air.
Utah Clean Cities’ Tammie Bostick Cooper then presented Briscoe and the board with the “Turn the Key, Be Idle Free” award before Altara’s student council presented them thank-you letters for making the district idle-free.
Briscoe promised students that he would display the letters at the next board of education meeting. Students’ writing about being idle-free also was displayed on bulletin boards outside of classrooms. 
The Utah State Health Department donated an air-quality flag kit to Altara so they can display a red flag during poor air-quality days and a green flag for outside days.
Boyer said she plans to share with other schools an outline of the events during idle-free week so other principals and PTAs can hold similar activities.
“I hope they see the example our students set and they follow suit,” she said.  “We are giving a path for them to follow and I hope to see every school embrace being idle-free.”