Last October, youth group members at Mount Ararat Community Activity Center in East Liberty participated in an after-school workshop with Pittsburgh’s own Group Against Smog and Pollution. (GASP).
What is air pollution? We started out by asking the children if they knew what air pollution was. All the kids raised their hands excited to give answers. After a short hike to the Larimer Community Garden, we took turns giving examples of different types of air pollution and where it comes from. The children identified pollution sources such as cars, school buses, and garbage trucks. Emily Persico, our wonderful host from GASP discussed with the youth the dangers of air pollution to people as well as nature.
Air pollution affects the ability of people to breathe so we talked about asthma. Currently there are over six million people with asthma under the age of 18. We asked the youth how many participants had asthma or knew of someone with it. Emily asked if the children would like to feel what it was like to have asthma.
We did a simulation activity with regular sized straws and a coffee stirring straw. To begin the simulation, we gave them 10 minutes of free play. The children ran around until they felt that they were short of breath.. We noticed when they began to breathe a little heavier. so we called them over to use the regular straws first. They breathed air through the straws to see if it was difficult to do. They all laughed and said that it was not hard to breathe. So, we let then run again for another 10 minutes. This time, we gave them the coffee stirrers, straws that are smaller and more narrow than regular sized straws. The kids couldn’t believe how hard it was to try and get air through the little straw. They instantly stopped using them and stated how frustrating it would be to have asthma.
Emily then discussed why it is important to try and stop air pollution. To further our investigation of air pollution, we went on a quick walk around the block to look for different types of lichen that grow on trees. The children were given magnifying glasses to examine the lichen closely. When there is a lot of air pollution present, specific types of lichen will not grow on the trees. We also used a Dylos machine to track the levels of air pollution as we walked. The higher the numbers on the machine, the more the air is polluted. As we walked around the block the numbers jumped around a lot. We were able to see the difference in numbers when a car or school bus went past. Overall, I think the children loved the experience.. When the hike was over and we returned to the after-school center, the children shared one thing they learned from the activity and how they can help decrease air pollution in their community.
Youth from the following after-school centers have also had the opportunity to learn from this lesson, thanks to GASP: the Brashear Association in Allentown and Providence Connections Family Support Center in Brighton Heights.