By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – With a return to in-person learning for the fall already underway or just days away, a new group of Denver schools will be taking part in a unique air quality monitoring program. The three-year program is called Love My Air Denver and is funded by a $1 million Bloomberg Mayors Challenge grant awarded to the city.

(credit: City and County of Denver)

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Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) started by installing air sensors at 9 DPS schools in 2019 with a goal of 40 schools by the end of the grant period. Heading into the next school year, 34 schools are now equipped with the equipment.

DDPHE shaped the program and reached out to schools based on reduced lunch rates and asthma rates. The sensors monitor for PM 2.5, a pollutant with long term health effects for children.

“What we’re trying to achieve is really impact the health of our students and really be able to have healthier students,” said Michael Ogletree, air quality program manager with the City and County of Denver.

The Bruce Randolph School was one of the original schools to get an air sensor two years ago. Since then, data from its sensor, along with from every other school, has been available to anyone on an online dashboard.

The real-time PM 2.5 levels can also be viewed on a centrally located TV screen within each participating school. Sarah Peterson, science senior team lead at the school, said the numbers have been valuable for everyone from nurses to PE teachers.

(credit: City and County of Denver)

“How are we deciding when it’s ok for students to go outside? How are we deciding when to maybe keep them indoors because of the air quality?” Peterson said.

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In addition to adding sensors at 6 more schools, the program will soon release an app. It will provide real-time data, historical data, and can even send alerts to your phone.

Soon, the dashboards will also show the Air Quality Index (AQI) number, which parents can use to make better decisions regarding their kids’ health.

“They can then use it to make a decision about stopping by the park on the way home or maybe as the kids are coming to school,” He said. “Should they be walking or be in a vehicle?”

According to Ogletree, the goal this year is to refine the program even more and then expand further. Just this month, they released an online toolbox that would help other communities replicate the program.

“People are starting to use that information to make changes and protect student health. I think it’s where we want it to be,” Ogletree said.

(credit: CBS)

At Bruce Randolph School, Peterson sees an opportunity to use data from the program to engage her students.

“Having students start to think about what is this dashboard and why is that color changing? What does it mean if it’s red? What should I be doing differently?”

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The program was scheduled to come to an end this year, but Ogletree said staff will apply for a one year no-cost extension, since schools did not have as many opportunities to take advantage of the data while students participated in remote learning due to COVID-19. 

Conor McCue