Incline High among county’s ‘Idle Free Schools’ |

Incline High among county’s ‘Idle Free Schools’

Special to the Bonanza

Students have installed signs like these across several Washoe County School District campuses.

At the end of the school day, parents and buses line up outside schools across the country, waiting to pick up students. Many of these cars and buses idle their engines while they wait, wasting gas and contributing to local air pollution.

But staff members and families at 14 schools in Washoe County are working to change that. With the help of national nonprofit organization, Alliance for Climate Education, local partner GREENevada, the Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division, and Safe Routes to School, local schools are reducing car and bus idling and designating themselves as "Idle Free Schools."

Leaving a car engine running while not driving is harmful both for the environment and people. Idling creates air pollution, which poses a health risk for adults and especially children.

Children's lungs are still developing and they breathe faster than adults. Breathing in air pollution can aggravate asthma and cause lung disease, cancer, and premature death. Nearly nine million children in the U.S. have asthma.

Leaving your engine on also emits unnecessary carbon dioxide, which causes climate change. Climate change itself worsens air pollution, as well as leading to more frequent and intense heat waves, wildfires and droughts, including the current drought in California and Nevada.

Engine idling also wastes gas and money. Did you know that idling for more than 10 seconds costs more than restarting your engine? Every year, Americans waste up to 2.9 billion gallons of gas by idling an average of 16 minutes a day. That's $78 billion in wasted gas.

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To combat these problems six high schools — Reed, Sparks, Spanish Springs, Incline, Sage Ridge and Washoe Innovations — recently participated in a competition to reduce idling.

In the fall of 2013, the students monitored car and bus idling at the end of the school day by noting the type of vehicle and number of minutes idled. Students also raised awareness around schools by handing out fliers, stickers and posters.

To encourage drivers to stop idling, students enlisted the help of local businesses and distributed gift cards, and to raise awareness, students installed "Idle Free Zone" signs outside the school.

In the spring of 2014, students collected more data to see how much idling had been reduced. In the end, Reed High School won the competition by reducing idling by 63 percent. Incline High School reduced idling by 61 percent and Sparks High School by 28 percent.

"I walked into Reed High School about a week after the signs were put up right at the end of the school day and noticed something was different," said Rebecca Anderson, Director of Science and Education at the Alliance for Climate Education. "It took me a minute to realize I could hear the birds chirping outside the school because all the cars had their engines off. It was so peaceful."

Over the summer, Idle Free Schools continued to grow. Several Washoe County elementary schools joined the list, bringing the total to 14 Idle Free Schools at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

"I would love to see as many schools as possible become Idle Free this year," said Julie Hunter with the Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division.

Eventually, the partnership hopes to make the entire Washoe County School District completely Idle Free.

"Safe Routes to Schools is very supportive of Idle Free Schools," said MJ Cloud, Safe Routes to Schools coordinator. "Not idling is a choice that parents and students can make to help schools reach their goals to become safe and healthy learning environments."

This article was submitted to the Bonanza by the Alliance for Climate Education. Learn more at