Class 5's Clean Air Crusaders

The hustle and bustle is part of what makes New York City, well, New York City… from the endless traffic and the large crowds of people, to the infinite lengths of concrete and skyscrapers. But how much do these things affect the quality of our air, water and earth? This spring, Chapin’s Class 5 students worked hard to find out by testing the pollution levels of the neighborhood surrounding Chapin.  

“Why do we care about pollution?” Middle School Science Teacher Alma Padilla asked the group during a recent class. “Because we are the next generation!” one student replied. “We care because it has a greater effect on children since we are smaller and still developing,” answered another. Ms. Padilla also gestured to her pregnant stomach, reminding the class that particulate matter (air pollution) can enter a woman’s bloodstream and affect her unborn child.  

In earlier classes, the students had tested the pollution levels of the block surrounding Chapin. However, during this outing, they were completing testing in and around neighboring Carl Schurz Park. “The park is really close to the FDR,” one student shared, anticipating high levels of pollution from the cars. “But there are lots of trees in the park, so maybe they help to eliminate some of that pollution,” countered her classmate. Ms. Padilla explained that perhaps the park’s trees would act as a buffer, reducing the effects of pollution on the surrounding neighborhood. All of the students agreed that, due to the number of children that visit the park each day, they hoped the pollution levels were low.

Before they headed out, the students recorded the current weather conditions on their data sheets, noting that due to the previous day’s heavy rainfall they expected to see low amounts of pollution. Then they grabbed their jackets, clipboards, cameras, and testing equipment and walked to the park.   

Each student was paired with a partner and assigned a different type of pollution to monitor. One group used a special device to measure noise pollution; another was in charge of collecting soil samples; a third group used a device to detect the level of particulate matter present in the air; and the final group recorded traffic. 

The students on the traffic team surveyed the streets, looking for idling cars surrounding the park, and used handheld counting devices to track the number of vehicles driving by. They also noted the amount of boats passing by on the East River, which borders one side of the park.

The soil team used a sampling tube to take dirt from various locations around the park, which they brought back to the science classroom for further testing. “We take soil from various areas because it could be exposed to different things,” one student explained. “Any time we can compare results, it’s a good thing,” Ms. Padilla agreed. After choosing a location to test, the students dropped a handful of marbles onto the ground, randomizing their sampling sites. Then they carefully placed the soil into labeled containers and raked it to remove any clumps. The students worked carefully and confidently, being sure to follow all of the proper procedures.

“That man is smoking!” one of the particulate matter students pointed out during their walk, discovering one source of air pollution. Other students used their cameras to document litter found throughout the park.

As a conclusion to their pollution study, this weekend 15 students from Class 5 will represent Chapin at an air pollution symposium held at the CUNY School of Law. There, they will present the findings of their pollution data collection, as well as their recommendations for addressing air pollution in Chapin’s neighborhood. This real-world presentation experience, along with the hands-on testing, has given these students deeper insight into the impact our city has on the health of our planet and ourselves.

Browse photos from the pollution testing below: