Environmental science class to install new air quality monitors

Claire Gilliland, Editor-in-Chief

Bear Creek’s environmental science class — led by teacher Isabel Cuerpo — is working on getting a new air quality system, an electronic sign that’s part of the RAAN system, to replace their current system of air quality flags in the front of the school. Bear Creek will be the first high school in Lodi Unified to acquire this program.

The San Joaquin Valley has been known to have bad air quality — in 2016, it was ranked worst in the nation in terms of pollutants in the air.
“During summertime, the Central Valley has a really poor air quality, and we do have a lot of at-risk populations — small kids and the older individuals — that [may develop] respiratory problems,” Cuerpo said. “Stockton is a fairly urbanized city, we have lots of cars, we are surrounded with agriculture lands, so that’s producing a lot of particulate matter — dust particles, and then the cars have noxious gases. In the summertime we have intense heat, plus all the pollutants would produce smog, which aggravates respiratory problems.”

Though the state of California works to regulate pollution in the hopes of ensuring safer, more breathable air for its residents, the location of the Central Valley makes it so that pollution can linger in the air. Bad air quality can enter people’s bloodstreams and increase rates of asthma, among other health problems.

“The air quality outside fluctuates a lot, and it really does have [an] effect on our health,” senior Nicole Lam said. “Being exposed to air pollution gradually decreases our lung capacity more than general aging…. People who have a lung sensitivity like people with asthma especially should be looking at the air quality.”

Two years ago, Cuerpo herself developed asthma, a respiratory problem which tends to worsen during the spring and summer months.

“I was always constantly short of breath, I felt like my lungs were constricted … that lasted for like a month, finally I visited the doctor and it was asthma,” Cuerpo said. “[Depending on] the quality of the air, people could develop asthma.”

Bear Creek’s environmental science class checks the air quality online via San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (Valley Air District) daily and updates the air quality flags in front of the school with this information to let students know. However, Cuerpo doesn’t think that the flag system is very effective.

“I don’t even think that kids are even aware that we have the flag because it’s out there [in the front of the school],” Cuerpo said. “The flag is obsolete. The air quality changes over time throughout the day…. In the middle of the day is when there’s a cumulation of pollutants and the temperature has increased…. To be healthy, we need to be mindful of our environment.”

Air quality tends to be the best in the morning and late in the evening, and worse in the afternoon. However, the environmental science students check the air quality and put up the flag between second and third period, before the air quality can get bad, and as such the flag doesn’t tend to be a good indicator of the air quality mid-day or in the afternoon. The monitor would update hourly and would fix this problem.

Recently, when they lost one of their flags, the class heard of a new system that they could potentially establish to replace the flags.

“We ended up having to contact the administration for the flag program that we currently do because we lost one of the flags but then they told us that we didn’t have to get new flags because there was a new system … the RAAN system,” Lam said. “Ms. Cuerpo thought it would be a good idea to have us start implementing it and have it be a student-driven program … here.”

The RAAN system would consist of a monitor to inform people of the air quality rather than the current flag system.

“The monitor is 24 inches by 36 inches, that’s pretty big, and it’s really really bright,” Cuerpo said. “We’re thinking [of putting] one in the counselor’s window facing Thornton, facing east, or even thinking one that’s facing the student parking lot and then one inside that’s facing the quad area.”
Cuerpo had her students plan a presentation to suggest the idea at a staff meeting.

“[We made] a 12 slide PowerPoint to present after school at a faculty meeting,” Lam said. “We probably spent more than three days in class and some time at home to make it. In the PowerPoint, we explained what RAAN is and what the goals are.”

“This is such a good way for environmental students to do something worthwhile, to make the community aware, and to leave a legacy to their home school,” Cuerpo said. “I want my kids to learn … that you do good things, you do good deeds that are for the benefit of the community…. And they’ve been doing Coastal Clean-Up, they’ve done Earth Day, and this will be another, final activity that they can do. It’s a good parting gift as alumni.”

The class was originally set to propose the adoption of the RAAN system at the April 18 faculty meeting, but those plans changed and the students presented May 9. Cuerpo hopes that the system will inform local people.

“My hope is for the larger community outside of the school community to be more aware of what’s going on so that they would be more conscious of health problems and what stuff can they do to also protect their kids’ health,” Cuerpo said.

Bear Creek approved the implementation of the RAAN system and Cuerpo’s class is set to put up signs warning idling cars of their effect on the environment in the student parking lot.