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Park School Third Grader’s Project Leads to Restriction on Idling

4/14/2017, 6 a.m. | Updated on 4/13/2017, 4:01 p.m.
Park School Third Grader’s Project Leads to Restriction on Idling
Ellen Hoitsma with her third grade students presenting their posters to Dan Paradis, head of school. Courtesy Photos Park School

For many, Earth Day presents a chance to advance the cause of sustainability and to promote environmentally friendly objectives with an eye toward the longevity of the planet but for Park School’s third grade class, every day is Earth DayTheir passion for conservation recently drove them to action, resulting in a formal change in school’s drop off policy.

After learning about the negative impact of fossil fuels in class, students noticed parents in the drop-off line leaving their cars running for several minutes at a time. They asked their teacher, Ellen Hoitsma, why parents leave their cars on when they know it's bad for the environment.

Hoitsma encouraged her class to conduct research on the environmental impact and present their findings and recommendations to Park’s head of school, Dan Paradis and as a result, Paradis requested that all vehicles on campus— including delivery and commercial vehicles— cease idling after 10 seconds.

School officials say they are hoping the third-graders’ example will inspire others in the Greater Baltimore community to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint, not just on Earth Day which falls on April 22 this year.

“The children decided they wanted to create a petition that our community could sign, and they worked really hard to write a persuasive letter that wouldn’t frighten the youngest students at our school about the dangers of idling, but would nonetheless inform our fourth and fifth graders about the solid science behind limiting idling time,” Hoitsma said. “Pairs of children visited each Lower School classroom to explain our goals and gather signatures. We made a short presentation during Lower School assembly, too, and designed colorful and convincing posters to hang around the school, sharing what we had learned.

”The students say they were excited about their project and happily shared what they learned. “You should never, ever idle in a confined space,” Jack D., a third grader said.“A lot of cars think they need to warm up their engines, but with today’s cars, ten seconds is all you need,” said Jack, who added that he felt a sense of relieve when the head of school signed their petition. “It was great to go home and tell our parents to turn the key and be idle-free.”

Cece L., another third grader says she has always been a fan of the environment and helping with reducing idling time works toward her goal of a sustainable planet.“I love polar bears and, in part, because of idling and global warming, they might go extinct,” Cece said. “The matter from traffic and factories lands on the ice, turning it darker, which absorbs more sun, causing the ice to melt. I like that people really care.”

Classmate Tessa says she found joy and comfort in the work, which has inspired many to help the environment.

“When you limit your idling to ten seconds, it’s not hard, it’s helpful,” Tessa said. “You save money on gas just by moving your hand two inches.”

One of the highlights of the project was presenting the petition, with over 200 signatures, to Paradis, who listened intently to the students’ ideas, asked questions about the message of each poster, and was even“nice” when some third-grade fingers made their way into his candy jar, according to Hoitsma.

“As one child expressed it, ‘Today we convinced the Head of School, tomorrow the President of the United States,’”she said.

Car exhaust pollutants such as carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and nitrogen oxides are bad for our health,Hoitsma said of why the students’ actions were important.Idling cars and trucks produce 20 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon, which contributes to global warming. An idling car uses up to half a gallon of fuel an hour. An idling diesel truck burns about a gallon of fuel an hour and, in the United States alone, which is estimated to be six billion gallons per year, and $13 million per day, Hoitsma said.

“I am tremendously proud of these students for their energy and devotion to advocating for our community and our planet,” she said. “We all learned the value of patience with the process.

Our young people need to see that their voices are heard, and that with persistence, we can make a positive difference.”