Eighth-Graders Take Hands-On Approach to Fighting Air Pollution

Edison International partners with the Garvey School District to create a clean energy future for local communities
Jul 9, 2018 4:45 PM ET

Originally posted on Inside Edison

Jamie Lei and Kenneth Nosaka, air quality measurement tools in hand, were surprised by the readings inside a local fast food restaurant during lunch hour. The numbers were even worse than those taken from a nearby freeway overpass.

“I was not expecting that,” Nosaka said.

Lei, Nosaka and other team members are not your typical researchers. These are eighth-grade students from Garvey Intermediate Campus in Rosemead, which sits in an air pollution “hot spot.” Recently, science teacher Michael Naka led his class through “CLEAR in Schools,” part of an innovative “Community Learning Enhances Air Resources” program developed and managed by the nonprofit Coalition for Clean Air.

“This is not just book learning, this is something they’ll remember for a long time,” Naka said, noting the importance of his students learning how air pollution disproportionately affects their communities, and how they can get involved in finding solutions. “Their lives will change because of what they learned, about their contribution to air pollution and what they can do about it.”

Student Isaias Martinez agrees. “In the beginning, I wasn’t too excited to study air pollution, but the program really opened a lot of students’ eyes, including mine,” he said. “I think the people in our neighborhood are affected by air pollution, but they really aren’t aware how it affects their health.”

Since the program launched three years ago, “CLEAR in Schools” has trained 10 teachers in the curriculum. More than 400 students at four Southern California middle and high schools have completed the coursework, which includes several hands-on exercises and a live video conference with two scientists about primary and secondary air pollutants.

Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison, recently awarded a grant to the coalition to implement “CLEAR in Schools” in the Garvey School District.

“Edison invests in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) education programs like ‘CLEAR in Schools’ to help students — especially those from underserved communities — become tomorrow’s scientists and engineers,” said Lisa Woon, SCE’s principal manager of Corporate Philanthropy. “Grants like these are an investment in creating a clean energy future for Southern California.”

Naka’s class was provided with devices that measure particulate matter in real time, and can be linked to an online network via a mobile phone app. Users upload the data they capture to a web site, which shares real-time information about local air quality conditions — like a Waze for air pollution.

The teams then presented their findings to Dr. Joseph Lyou, president and CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air,  Garvey School District Superintendent Anita Chu and board member Henry Lo.

“I see talented scientists in the making, using real science, working on real issues,” said Chu.

Motivated by what he saw, Lyou raised the issue of particulate matter emissions from restaurant charbroilers the next day at a board meeting of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. As a result, the board prioritized the reconsideration of existing regulations.

“It gave me a good feeling to know that we were finding solutions to help the community,” said Martinez.

See Edison's 2017 Sustainability Report

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