The few times the students at Oceano Elementary School have asked the janitor to hoist the air quality flag, they have told him to go with green — healthy air.
That’s good news so far. On the other hand, the lung-protection flag program has existed only since mid-December, and it’s been raining a lot, generally clearing the air. As 2011 wears on, flags of a different color could slide up the pole.
Those could be yellow, which tells folks at the school that there is dust in the air and to monitor their activity; orange, a warning to limit activity; or the worst, red. A red flag means the air is unhealthy and youngsters should stay indoors, as should adults with respiratory or cardiac problems.
The kids are back after a long holiday layoff in an effort that not only teaches them about the environment, but also helps county air pollution control officials concerned about the health of county residents.
The Air Pollution Control District has the color-coded information on its website, and it hopes it can spread the word about air quality through the youngsters.
Aeron Arlin-Genet of the district says it eventually hopes to involve all schools in South County, and is seeking other ways to get the word out about air quality, such as enlisting local media.
The Nipomo Mesa has been a focus lately because sand blowing from the Oceano Dunes has created unhealthy air. The district website measures that impact.
Jim DeCecco’s fifth-grade students go once a day to the website (www.airnow.gov) and look up the air quality for the next day, then pass that information on to the janitor, who puts up the right flag.
Oceano Elementary School has been at the forefront of environmental education, according to DeCecco. “My class is always working on environmental stuff,” as is the school as a whole.
“We have put a number of programs in place to make our campus green and save the district and parents money,” DeCecco wrote.
Participation in the PG&E “solar schools” program. The school has a 1-kilowatt solar array that generates electricity and is useful for teaching math and science.
A schoolwide recycling program.
A composting program, under which “we collect all the compostable material at lunch and compost it using worm bins behind the cafeteria. Once again, this is student led,” DeCecco wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.
The compost goes into a community garden, and Connie Kessler, who teaches second grade, has a garden club that works in the garden after school. “They use the vegetables and fruits for healthy snacks when the produce is harvested,” DeCecco wrote.
Once a month, Oceano Elementary has a “Walk to School Day” and a “Bike to School Day,” as well as a “‘Bike Posse” where staff members lead bike rides twice a month after school to Doc Burnstein’s in Arroyo Grande to get ice cream.
The school has committed to reducing its electrical consumption. In the latter half of 2010 it dropped by 10 percent from the previous year.
“So,” DeCecco wrote, “as you can see, being part of the air quality program is just a natural extension of everything we do at Oceano.”