community asthma programs

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Call to Action on Asthma

Over 20 years ago, I worked in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) where every day I saw children in serious distress from asthma. Most got better, but some returned time and again…and a few never went home. It was heartbreaking; especially because in many cases, their distress could have been prevented.

I felt called to help children make changes that would allow them to lead active, healthy lives unencumbered by asthma symptoms – to give them and their families the knowledge they needed to take control of asthma. It was then that I transitioned my career to promote asthma education and empower communities to manage asthma. It was, and continues to be, my goal that not one more person dies from asthma.

At EPA, where I have worked for the last 13 years, that mission is shared. We have partnered with other federal agencies, national, state, and local nonprofit organizations and hundreds of communities nationwide to promote environmental trigger management as part of comprehensive asthma care.

Part of EPA’s activities include convening the National Asthma Forum; providing support to a growing network of community asthma programs; promoting community action and events during Asthma Awareness Month; and recognizing health plans, providers and communities that are addressing environmental asthma triggers with the National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management.

Our most important activity, though, is empowering individuals to control asthma through education. Everyone in a community has a role in helping people manage asthma. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Learn about asthma, environmental triggers and what you can do to control them.
  • Plan or participate in an Asthma Awareness Month event this May.
  • Talk to a nurse, the school board, the principal, the PTA or other leaders in your school district about how they can help students by controlling asthma triggers.
  • Encourage your care provider to attend the National Asthma Forum.

I’ll never forget the struggles I saw in the PICU that inspired me on my path with EPA to educate and empower families affected by asthma. I hope each of you will join me in taking action. What will you do in your community to raise awareness about asthma and spread the message about comprehensive asthma management?

About the Author: Tracey Mitchell is an Environmental Scientist with the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air’s Indoor Environments Division and works on the EPA Asthma Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.