OREM — Young scientists at a Utah County elementary school have made important discoveries about a source of pollution at their school.
The students from Geneva Elementary in Orem will even present their findings next week to adults, including members of the Utah Valley Clean Air Task Force.
They discovered some important information about the engine idling habits of their own parents. Each afternoon, parents drive up and wait to pick up their kids after school.
“They like to leave their cars on so it stays warm,” said sixth-grader Isaac Garner. “Mostly the parents who are idling, they stay idling the whole time.”
That idling adds particulate pollution to the air, which can lead to breathing problems and even sickness for some of their classmates.
“Some of them were very long,” student Alex Mendoza said of the idling cars.
A year ago, Orem’s Natural Resources Stewardship Committee worked with fifth-graders to monitor idling behavior in front of the school. Those students are now in the sixth grade.
During the first week of data collection, they spotted cars that were idling in the pickup area, and discreetly timed them.
“I would go to a car and I would time it to see how long it would stay on,” said sixth-grader Melany Cruz.
“We didn’t act suspicious,” Alex said. “We had a timer and we were timing how long they had their car on.”
They discovered many drivers turned off the engine while they waited, while five or six others kept idling.
“Some of them only took like 5 minutes,” Melany said. “Others took longer.”
Several cars idled for 14 or 15 minutes, and the students now know that’s not good for the air quality.
“If they idle too long, that affects the air, and we don’t want our students to get sick,” said Melany.
The students compared the idling behaviors during week one, when there were no signs on the sidewalk, and week two when signs were visible on the sidewalk reminding parents to stop idling.
What did the students discover?
“When we had the signs up, none of the cars were idling,” Isaac said. “All of them stopped.”
The students believed the parents got this message about idling.
“It’s bad for the air quality and for little kids to breathe the air,” said Michelle Munoz, another sixth-grader.
Sarah Bateman is the chair of the Orem Natural Resources Stewardship Committee and a parent of students at the school.
“It’s really this generation of students that will be part of the solution to the future problems,” she said.
She created a lesson plan the students have been using with their math curriculum in sixth grade.
“They were able to see this real world problem and see the difference that a simple sign could possibly make,” Bateman said.
“We discovered that people… they leave their cars on a lot, and they don’t realize it’s bad until somebody asks them to stop,” said Isaac.
The experiment led the students to conclude this about their parents:
“They really care about our students, don’t want them to get sick,” said Melany.
That’s a pretty valuable discovery.