Never doubt that small changes can make a big difference. What started as a suggestion by a concerned Canyons School District parent has grown into a Board of Education-approved campaign to reduce schoolyard idling during morning drop-offs and pickups.

On Earth Day, Canyons became the first school district in Utah to go idle free at all of its schools. The campaign kicked off early in the morning at Ridgecrest elementary school where “no idling” signs were installed and students greeted drivers with placards, informational pamphlets and window clings to place in vehicles. Eventually, signs will be placed at all Canyons schools and “no idling” pledges will be sent home with students, encouraging parents to voluntarily pledge to “turn their key and be idle free.”

The idea originated with a parent, Cindy Boyer, who dropped by Superintendent Jim Briscoe’s office just over a month ago to share her frustration at seeing exhaust billowing into the air at her child’s school’s parking lot. Briscoe took her concerns to the Board of Education, and within a matter of weeks, the district’s “no idling” campaign was born.

Air quality along the congested Wasatch Front has improved. But Utah still has two of the nation’s seven worst cities for air pollution, according to the American Lung Association. The Utah Division of Air Quality says 38 percent of the state's air pollution comes from cars and trucks — some of it from idling vehicles. Monitoring at schools in other states has shown elevated levels of pollutants during drop-off and pickup times. And because Kids breathe about 2 gallons of air a minute, and their lungs are still developing, they are more susceptible to the harmful effects of pollutants.

“Besides educating students, I feel we have some responsibility for their health, and their future health,” said Briscoe, noting that projections show school enrollment doubling in the Canyons District area over the next 30 years.

Hundreds of Utah schools have implemented idling reduction programs under an initiative spearheaded by the Utah Clean Cities Coalition. Canyons is the first to take it districtwide, according to the non-profit’s northern coordinator Tammie Bostick Cooper.

But the initiative is really a community affair. Utah Clean Cities and Cottonwood Heights have provided no idling signs and educational materials. Officials with Salt Lake County Health Department are taking a census of idling cars outside schools before and after the campaign launch. And each school in the district is finding creative ways to engage students and spread the message.

Many Canyons schools, and all of its buses, have been idle-free for some time, said Canyons Energy Specialist Christopher Eppler. Copperview Elementary is having students in grades 3-5 write argumentative essays about the benefits of reducing idling. And on Friday, Ridgecrest held a “no idling” assembly to honor fifth-grader Kaleb Broderick who, in a handwritten letter, recently urged Cottonwood Heights to install no idling signs near public parks. The city agreed and donated an extra sign to Ridgecrest.

Reducing idling is easy to do. It protects our health and improves our air quality. It also saves money on gas. A few seconds here or there adds up over time, said Canyons Board Vice President Nancy Tingey at a recent board meeting. “I would hope every one of us would look at our own habits and consider what tiny changes we could make to improve our air quality.”

Other ‘Healthy Schools’ Steps at Canyons

  • ENERGY: Since the district’s inception in 2009, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by 39 percent — or 6,923 metric tons of CO2 — even as our facilities have grown by 1 million square feet, says Canyons’ Energy Specialist Christopher Eppler. That’s the equivalent of taking 10,311 cars off the road.  This was accomplished by upgrading heating, cooling and lighting systems in older schools and by placing mechanical systems in “unoccupied” mode when buildings are vacant.
  • WATER: Canyons also is doing its part to curb water usage; the district has about 370 acres of turf to maintain. With a $15,000 grant from the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, Eppler hired and trained Canyons students to help survey, monitor and adjust school water schedules based on the root zone, type of grass, shade, soil type and evaporation rate. In July 2014, the district used 16.5 million gallons less than in July 2012 and 9.5 million gallons less than in July 2013. 
  • RADON TESTING: Canyons District was recently honored by the Utah Division of Environmental Quality for its radon-testing program. CSD is the only district in Utah that regularly tests schools for radon with all buildings tested at least every two years. 
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  • More than 200 teachers, parents and dignitaries attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Alta View Elementary under a stellar blue sky Tuesday, April 19 — but the real VIPs of the event were Alta View’s many students who came to celebrate the start of work on their new building.

    “This is an incredibly exciting time,” Alta View Principal Karen Medlin told the crowd. “We’re going to be so proud of this new addition to the Canyons District community, and we promise you that it will be a place of learning, a place of knowledge, a place of true human power.”

    Senate President Wayne Niederhauser; Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper; members of the White City Township Community Council Kay Dickerson, Paulina Flint and Linda Price; Canyons Board of Education President Sherril Taylor and members Steve Wrigley, Nancy Tingey, Amber Shill; District administrators, school administrators, teachers and parents and neighbors all attended the celebration of beginning construction on the long-awaited building.
    According to plans, the new Alta View will be built east of the existing school. Children will attend class in the old facility while the new one is being constructed.

    Features of the new Alta View include a security vestibule that will require all visitors to be seen by school staff before entering the building. Plans also call for a large commons area filled with natural light and a grand staircase leading to the second-floor classrooms, the media center, an activity room and a computer lab. On the main floor, classrooms will be flanked by a multipurpose room and the kitchen and cafeteria. 

    In addition, state-of-the-art mechanical and electrical systems, including voice-amplification equipment for teachers, will be used in learning spaces throughout the building.

    The project is being completed thanks to a $250 million, tax-rate-neutral bond approved by voters in 2010. In the past six years, the District has been able to successfully complete a healthy spate of new-school and renovation projects, including seismic retrofitting at Sandy Elementary, the new Midvale Elementary, Corner Canyon High, a renovation of Albion Middle, the new Butler Middle, the new Draper Park Middle, additions at Brighton and Hillcrest high schools, and the new Mount Jordan Middle. 

    Work on the projects promised to the CSD community at the time of the bond’s passage will continue for the next several years.  A new Butler Elementary will open this fall, crews are hard at work on a new Midvale Middle and the design process is underway for a remodel of Indian Hills. The Board of Education on Tuesday, April 12 approved a contract with FFKR to work on the remodel of the Sandy middle school — the final project expected to be completed with funds from the 2010 bond measure.

    Canyons District parents, principals and students are celebrating educational excellence by honoring a top teacher in each school community. 

    Every Canyons school has followed a seven-year tradition of recognizing a Teacher of the Year for outstanding teaching practices, professionalism, and community involvement.  Those teachers were cheered during surprise announcements made in the days before Spring Recess. See the District’s Facebook page for video and photographs of the celebrations. 

    The school Teachers of the Year for 2016 received gifts and prizes donated by CSD’s generous business partners. The honored teachers also have been nominated for Canyons District Teacher of the Year, a recognitions that includes cash, prizes, and a nomination for the Utah Teacher of the Year award.

    The Board of Education invites the CSD community to the Tuesday, April 26, 2016 special awards ceremony during which the overall District’s Teacher of the Year will be named. The event will start at 7:30 p.m. in the Professional Development Center of the Canyons Administration Building, 9361 S. 300 East. 

    Without the expertise and dedication of our amazing teachers, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prepare the generation of leaders who will leave our schools ready for the rigors and demands of college and the workplace. 

    “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities,” President John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”

    Computer science professionals are lending their skills as mentors and teachers to Corner Canyon’s students. Thanks to the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program, or TEALS, three Microsoft employees — who also happen to be parents of Corner Canyon students — are teaching sophomores, juniors and seniors the basic building blocks of computer programming.

    “We are trying to introduce concepts of computer science, but do it in a fun way,” says Ken Walters, a Corner Canyon parent and employee of Microsoft who has taught his TEALS class for two years.

    Students learn about computer programming by designing their own video games. Over the course of the program, students build a Mario game, hangman game, pawn and space invader games, and then their final project is to build whatever they want to play on their own.

    The program, and its curriculum, was initially designed by a Microsoft employee who proposed that employees volunteer their time to teach the course — to students and a teacher — for two years, at which point, the teacher will take over. Corner Canyon is one of two schools in Utah to utilize the program.

    “I love it,” Walters says. “I was looking for a way to volunteer in school, and for me, it was a great fit.”

    Corner Canyon has organized the schedule so TEALS classes take place during the first period. That way, the professionals can be finished teaching their class by 9:20 a.m. and be at work by 9:45 a.m. It’s hard work to make lesson plans and grade projects, Walters says, but worth it when he sees his students improve, or even decide they’d like to pursue computer programming as a career.

    So far, students have built a word processor, battle games, mazes and puzzles as their final projects — but even better, Walters says, they’ve gained a solid basic understanding of an employment field that has a world of options.
    Students and teachers at Brighton High on Thursday, March 3 hosted a delegation from France visiting Utah as part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

    The aim of the visit, which was arranged as part of CSD’s innovative involvement in the Face to Faith initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, was to engage in a frank dialogue about how faith and religion contribute to culture and society in France and the United States.

    The French diplomats — Ali Dahmani, the director of a mosque; Frederique Neau-Dufour, the director of the European Center of Deported Resistance Members, which is located at a former Nazi concentration camp; and Emmanuel Valency, the rabbi of Bordeaux and southwestern France — told students that, unlike students in America, public-school students in France are prohibited from wearing any garb or jewelry that would signify faith or religion while on campus. For this reason, they said, many religious families in France send their children to private schools.

    Dahmani and Valency also explained through the use of an interpreter that anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment runs rampant in some parts of France. Dahmani said his group is working hard to fight the radicalization of Islam and educate the French nation about “the true face of Islam.” “The problem is,” he said, young adults who have questions about the faith “don’t have adults to turn to (for answers) … Islam is not a religion of violence or hatred. But when they don’t know, they turn to the Internet,” and what they find isn’t always correct or are beliefs espoused by terrorist groups, he said.

    Valency said his organization, in an effort to build bridges across faiths, pairs teenagers of different religions on soccer teams. If the players can’t learn to overcome their differences, he says, then the team loses.

    The group also told students that far-right political groups are creating a climate where hate speech against minority religions is commonplace — and even accepted in many parts of the country. Neau-Dufour said statements are being uttered in public discourse that “would have never been said in public before.” She also said many French observers of U.S. politics are “shocked” that recent statements made by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump about immigrants and Muslims would strike a chord with American voters.

    Trump, she said, reminds many French of the extreme far-right politicians that have recently rolled into power.

    Neau-Dufour also noted interest in the gender of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the fact that she’s married to a former president. “For us, it’s surprising that candidates come from the same family,” she said. She also said it was significant for many French when America chose Barack Obama as the first African-American president.

    The students in teacher Jodi Ide’s class listened respectfully and intently to the delegation, engaged in dialogue about the differences between France and the United States, and answered questions from the French visitors about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They also asked the visitors what they liked the most about Utah. The answer? The state’s snow-capped mountains.

    During the visit, which was attended by Board of Education members Nancy Tingey and Amber Shill, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation retweeted the District’s and school's Twitter coverage of the event.
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