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Hailey Mahan/MEDILL

Academy for Global Citizenship students raise the yellow flag to indicate moderate air quality.

State Air Quality Program isn't waving the white flag for clean air

by Hailey M. Mahan
Apr 30, 2013


Hailey Mahan/MEDILL

Flags in the Illinois Air Quality Flag Program range from green to purple.


Tuesday was a yellow day.  Air quality: Moderate.

The flag flying above Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship announces the quality of Illinois air, while emphasizing the importance of clean air to the academy’s students and their families.

The Illinois Partners for Clean Air, in partnership with the state's Environmental Protection Agency, held its inaugural flag raising Tuesday at the LeClaire Courts-area elementary school.

One of five colored flags – green, indicating the best–quality air, yellow, orange, red and purple, indicating the worst-quality air -- will be raised every day to show the EPA’s air quality forecast.

“If the flag is not green, we have more work to do,” said Dan Schnitzer, the academy’s director of sustainability and operations.  

Lisa Bonnett, Director of Illinois EPA, said the program was put in schools first  in the hope that children will gravitate to the concepts and get their parents to buy in, making this a kind of grassroots program.

Currently, two other schools have adopted the program, but Kim Biggs, Chair for the Illinois Partners for Clean Air, said they hope to bring this program of business and possibly government agencies soon.

Bonnett explained that the program is implemented at no cost to the schools. Materials and a curriculum are provided by the Illinois Partners for Clean Air and the school receives the EPA’s air-quality forecast through e-mail alerts.

But isn’t it hard to get kids excited about air quality?

“Not at all,” said Schnitzer. Kids are excited about a “tangible way” to present sustainability instead of just learning the concepts, he said.

The Academy for Global Citizenship is an “inquiry-driven school,” he said. The school does a lot of work giving kids hands-on experience with nature, making it a perfect place for the inaugural flag raising.

“It’s a slow process,” said Schnitzer about why other schools don’t adopt some sustainable practices. He said it is a large shift for schools to change their thinking about sustainability so much. But schools are making huge strides; it will just happen school by school.