On the Air 2020: A Curriculum Connecting Health, Community and the Environment

Photo of city with poor air quality on left, clean air on the right.

Healthy Air – Important for Everyone!

Healthy Air – Important for Everyone! Is the tagline for Air Quality Awareness week May 3rd-7th, 2021. Important to everyone indeed, especially to more than 25% of our urban youth plagued by asthma. Clean Air Partners’ new On the Air 2020 curriculum provides educators and empowers student to use science as a tool to answer questions about various aspects of the state of our air.

Regional air quality has been improving, but pollution still threatens the health (Module 1 Our Air, Our Lungs, Our Health) of 7.5 million people in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region and creates harmful effects on the environment and our ecosystems. Poor air quality days (Module 2 What is the Air Forecast?) impact our friends, neighbors, children, family, coworkers, and our environment.

The air what we breathe (Module 3 Air pollution in the community), the water we drink and the soil our food grows in, in sum the health of our local, regional and global environment is intimately linked to our health. The Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem impacts the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Every action we take ultimately affects the Bay and the 18 million of us that live in the watershed.

From the power plants, to the smokestacks, to the vehicle exhaust, approximately one third of the year’s total load of nitrogen[1] entering the Bay comes from air pollution (Module 4 Air and the Chesapeake Bay). This excess nitrogen may result in an overgrowth of algae known as an algal bloom. As the algae die, it uses the oxygen to decompose, depleting the water of its essential gas necessary for aquatic life resulting in “dead zones.”

When exploring Human Impact on the atmosphere and the Bay excess nitrogen in the atmosphere is not the only threat, controlling emissions of human generated greenhouse gases is key to slowing climate change (Module 5 Air and Climate Change). The watershed has more than 11,600 miles of coastline along the main bay and tidal tributaries, with many historic and natural areas at risk of permanent or periodic inundation from sea level rise, storm surge and land subsidence.

On the Air 2020, is Clean Air Partners’ newest curriculum that commits to supporting the goal of graduating environmental literate students on sources and solutions to air pollution and climate change within the Chesapeake Watershed. By raising awareness on the state of our air, teaching age appropriate sound scientific information facilitating awareness, knowledge, attitude, skills, and actions to address issues around air quality and climate change while promoting environmental stewardship.

What can you expect from On the Air 2020?

Five modules that are NGSS aligned, and address specific VA SOL, CCSS Math & Literacy standards. All modules are Inquiry Based 5E lesson sequences based on local phenomena and a total of 55 student-centered activities. In addition, each module has an “Air Quality champion”, an interview with a scientific member of the community who works to support healthy air and a section “Doing Our Part” with recommended actions to improve air quality.

We encourage educators to teach the five modules sequentially, however modules and activities can be accomplished as standalone modules or activities provided students are given the context. On the Air 2020 has various points of entry depending on educators’ instructional objective be it air and Human Health, Community, the Chesapeake Bay or Climate Change.

[1] more than 85 million pounds of nitrogen pollution based on 2014 data from the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed Model 5.3.2 https://www.cbf.org/issues/air-pollution/index.html

About the Author

Rebecca Davis is the Education Program Manager for Clean Air Partners. You can reach her at cleanairpartnersdc@gmail.com