On Tuesday, Feb. 10, I and my three Action Fellows: Alicia Wong, Kimberly Garcia and Oscar Garcia, met in front of the Washoe County School District headquarters to address the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees. We were there to push for a district-wide Idle-Free Schools policy.
This was a moment that had been nearly two years in the making.
Idle-Free Schools began in fall of 2013 at a GREENevada Student Leadership Retreat. The idea was hatched following a presentation by Julie Hunter, Senior Air Quality Specialist at the Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division. Little did I know at the time that Julie and I would become the closest of work colleagues over the next two years. Students at Julie’s presentation complained about how frustrated they were by the idling that goes on outside their schools at the end of the day. It seemed unbelievable that the school district didn’t already have a policy in place to prevent this. Thus, Idle-Free Schools was born.
In the 2013-14 school year, Idle-Free Schools was a pilot program run by six local high schools, and supported by GREENevada and ACE, as a contest to reduce car and bus idling. Students monitored current idling practices at their school to establish a baseline. Initially, the average total idle time of cars and buses at the end of the school day was 150 minutes. Yikes!
Following this, students began an outreach campaign to their school communities to educate them about the benefits of not idling. Less air pollution and cleaner air makes for healthier lungs, less CO2 is great for climate change, less engine noise makes for safer parking lots and less idling means more money in your pocket. Better health, environment, safety, and increased economic rewards were all benefits. What’s not to love? As our slogan said: “Turn your key and be Idle-Free.”
Students handed out stickers and flyers and put up Idle-Free Zone signs in front of their schools. Some schools made videos or handed out gift cards to parents and bus drivers as a thank-you for not idling. After several weeks of effort, students went back and measured the results. They were extraordinary.
After the campaign, total average idle time of cars and buses went from 150 minutes down to 90 minutes. That’s a reduction of 40%—not too shabby. Reed High in Sparks won the contest by lowering their total average idle time by 63%. Now that’s impressive.
After this successful pilot program, we went into high gear. We ordered more signs and more stickers, and signed up as many schools as possible over the summer and into the fall semester. Elementary schools in Washoe County School District in particular flocked to the program. Julie and I, with the support of ACE Action Fellow Alicia Wong, raced from school to school, putting up signs. Over the course of the summer and fall, we enrolled another ten schools in Idle-Free.
But, ultimately, we had a higher goal in mind: getting the entire school district to adopt a district-wide idle-free policy. But how to accomplish that goal? We knew it wouldn’t be easy to do. Idle Free had always been a program born of strong partnerships. It was one particular partnership that made the difference in attracting the attention of the Board of Trustees: our work with Safe Routes to School. Safe Routes to School coordinator Officer MJ Cloud was able to get us on the WCSD Board of Trustees agenda for Feb. 10, 2015.
Julie from AQMD was tasked with delivering the presentation, along with supporting presentations from Action Fellows Alicia Wong and Oscar Garcia. I couldn’t have been prouder to sit off to the side and watch my partner-in-crime and two Fellows pull off their presentations without a hitch. The Board asked questions about the locations of signs, cost and any negative feedback we’d received. The students answered their questions with confidence while I snapped pictures madly.
In the end, Board President John Mayer agreed that the Board would consider adopting an idle-free policy for Washoe County School District. We walked out of the room elated. I hope to report back soon that Washoe County Schools are now idle-free.