The clean air advocacy launched a pilot program to teach kids how and why to test their air. Photo by Cresanda Allen.

July 18, 2019

A local environmental watchdog wants to teach kids some new tricks. Like paying attention to what they're breathing.

Downwinders at Risk, a 25-year-old clean air advocacy group, launched the youth citizen science workshop in partnership with Kids-U, a Dallas-based nonprofit.

Kids-U provides after school and summer programs for kindergarten through 8th graders at 12 apartment complexes in low-income neighborhoods in DFW.

The theme of this summer’s programs is Full STEAM Ahead, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. 

Kids-U program director Courtney Taylor-El was friends with Downwinders board member Cresanda Allen and asked her to come up with a creative course for classes to be held at an apartment complex in Lake Highlands.

Downwinders already offered a DIY air monitoring class for adults but had never had one for youth. Allen and fellow Downwinders board member Misti O’Quin saw an opportunity to teach kids about environmental health and justice issues as well as provide hands-on training to use the scientific tools for evaluating the conditoins around them.

Together they designed the curriculum, gathered all the material and helped recruit students for the air monitoring workshop.

Downwinders Kids-U program

Fourteen middle school students enrolled in the six week pilot program that started June 13 and meets weekly through July 25. 

After learning the basics of air pollution and using air monitors, students go into the field to test air quality around the apartment complex and nearby DART bus stops.

“The program is very much customized to the site where we’re at,” said Allen.

The sensors pick up particulate matter large enough to be seen as well as microscopic parts invisible to the naked eye.

“Particulate matter can come from soot, fine dust from concrete plants, smoke from a match, exhaust particles. It can even be the dust from our homes,” said Allen.

Allen said the curriculum is particularly relevant to the students who live in low-income neighborhoods, as those communities often have industrial polluting sources nearby.

In the final class, the kids will examine their results and learn ways to improve air quality, such as turning off cars instead of idling as well as replacing public transportation fleets with electric buses.

Allen said the kids, many of whom are Nigerian refugees, have been eager to learn about the topic.

“On the first day, they asked a lot questions.”

She said they plan to approach Dallas ISD about adopting the curriculum.

Taylor-El of Kids-U said it's been success.

“The manager at the site has raved about the opportunity Downwinders is bringing and talked about how much the kids have enjoyed the classes,” said Taylor-El. “The instructors have done a great job of capturing kids’ interest and engagement.”

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