School Flag Program: Managing Asthma Through Air Quality Awareness

By Melissa Payne

Imagine that you’re a child- or even a teenager- with asthma.  Every day you go to school.  It’s up to you to tell someone when you start to feel wheezy or your breathing is uncomfortable. But, sometimes it’s hard to stop or slow down what you’re doing and tell an adult.

So, what if there was a way for you to know what the air quality was going to be like-  just by walking into school every morning?   Your teachers would know.  Your coaches would know.  You would know.  Everyone would have a part in keeping you and other kids healthy on poor air quality days.

As an adult, there’s something you can do to help your school make this a reality. The School Flag Program helps protect children’s health by increasing awareness about air quality and the effect it can have on children.

Local air quality can affect our daily lives and trigger asthma attacks. Like the weather, air quality can change from day to day. EPA developed the Air Quality Index, or AQI to make information available about the health effects of common air pollutants, and how to avoid those effects.

The School Flag Program is based on the AQI and participating is really simple.  School officials raise the flag each day based on the colors of the AQI (green =good, red=unhealthy, etc.).  The flag colors let kids, teachers, coaches and the rest of the community know what the air quality forecast is for the day.  Using the program activity guidelines schools can modify their outdoor activities when the air quality is unhealthy.

To get your local school started, speak to someone in the school front office, a teacher, or coach.  You can direct them to www.airnow.gov/schoolflag or print out a fact sheet from the website.  It’s an easy way to keep kids healthy!

About the author: Melissa Payne works in the Office of Air Quality Programs and Standards and likes to write about science for kids of all ages.

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