MOUNT VERNON — Students in Sarah Rutherford’s seventh-grade class at Immaculate Conception Regional School are using project-based learning to curb carbon dioxide emissions in their school parking lot.

At a school where the majority of students are dropped off and picked up by a parent or guardian, Rutherford’s students found that idling drivers emit roughly 13,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, costing them nearly $2,300 annually in wasted fuel.

Rutherford said the project began with two questions: How often do drivers idle in the lot? And why does it matter?

From there, students collected data and did research to calculate total carbon dioxide emissions from idling cars.

For several weeks, two students walked to the drop-off and pick-up zone to note how many vehicles were idling, the size of the vehicles and the time they spent idling, said seventh graders Michelle Fuimaono and Finn Jensen.

The students recorded their observations, then did research to determine how many pounds of carbon dioxide are released per hour of idling and the cost of wasted fuel for the drivers.

The students used the information from their observations and research to come to their conclusions on emissions and cost.

Rutherford also enlisted the help of Evan Bing, atmospheric measurement manager at the Northwest Clean Air Agency, to speak to her students about emissions and their implications.

Bing installed a monitor at the school that measures particulate matter in the air and gives an air quality index.

Some health implications of particulate matter are heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, asthma and difficulty breathing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Idling not only increases the amount of particulate matter in the air but decreases the life expectancy of cars as carbon residue builds up in the engine.

The students are now on the outreach phase of their project as they try to limit emissions.

Seventh grader Veronica Oropeza said the class is making flyers, posters and social media posts that highlight the implications of emissions from three different angles: health, economic cost and environmental impact.

The students are spending time in the parking lot with their posters and are handing out flyers to the parents and guardians who drive students to and from school.

Bing said students can be the best messengers for their parents on politically charged topics such as climate change.

Seventh grader Cadence Natoli hopes her school project will prompt other schools to work to curb emissions.

“The sky is the limit on what you can do for the environment,” she said.

If Natoli could choose the next project, she would figure out if the school could use solar energy to power the building, and would work to inspire other schools to do the same.

Natoli, Fuimaono, Oropeza and Jensen agree that everyone should have a basic understanding of climate change, even though they do not plan to go into a career or field of study related to it.

Rutherford said project-based learning is engaging for students and exciting for her because she doesn’t know what the outcome will be.

“I see kids today not feeling like they have any agency about big problems in the world, so I was trying to find something that was in our circle of control that maybe we could learn about and affect,” she said.

Reporter Maddie Smith 360-416-2139,

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