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Kill the engine: Auburn 3rd graders take action to improve air quality at school

Lakeland Hills Elementary 3rd graders (KOMO Photo)
Lakeland Hills Elementary 3rd graders (KOMO Photo)
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AUBURN, Wash. -- Budding young scientists at Lakeland Hills Elementary School are now working to improve the air they breathe.

With help from Washington Green Schools and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, their teacher Alaura Keith got them hand-held air quality monitors to test their air.

"And we are trying to see which areas were most polluted and which were not polluted," said third grader, Vanessa Liddicoat.

Students worked in small teams, roaming the halls and classrooms, testing the air. Their monitors kept registering green on the Air Quality Index, which is healthy air. But at the front door and office, readings moved into the unhealthy orange category, confirming what Liddicoat said he already experienced.

"I felt like my throat was kind of getting a bit clogged," said Liddicoat.

Her classmate Seth Dobbs gave the reason why: "Because the cars outside idling put exhaust in the air.”

Seeing how many parents sit outside idling their cars, some for an hour before the bell rings, these students launched a call to action. They started a Breathing Easier anti-idling campaign.

"Air pollution is dangerous and so is idling and that should not be permitted, especially at schools," said Sullivan Colon.

Liddicoat even has advice for drivers: "I feel like we should stop idling and start turning off our cars. If you're cold, wear a jacket and if you're hot you could bring a fan of roll down the window."

The students and Mrs. Keith wrote a letter that appeared in the Lakeland newsletter, asking parents to stop idling. And now they're waiting for new, no idle zone signs to be posted along the pickup line.

"And if the people who are still idling; if they don’t stop idling, we could keep telling them that its bad for people to breathe,” said Ada Baptiste, another third grader involved in this Breathe Easier campaign.

"I think after that will start knocking on windows of cars that are still idling and kind of like to know what we have found,” said their teacher, Alaura Keith.

Another student suggested handing out tickets to parents if they don’t turn off the car.

The students’ work got the attention of the governor and lawmakers in Olympia. Mrs. Keith took 6 students to the state Capitol to present their campaign as part of STEM Education day and this year's report card. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, taught together, based on real world applications.

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Mrs. Keith said Pioneer Elementary School in her district is also using this curriculum, with the help of Washington Green Schools.and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

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