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Environmental lessons cap Earth Month

Original post made on Apr 23, 2008

Students at Palo Verde Elementary School stand beneath a large black balloon Wednesday morning. The balloon was filled to demonstrate what a carbon footprint might look like as an environmental lesson during the final week of Earth Month. Photo by Veronica Weber/Palo Alto Weekly.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 12:13 PM

Comments (45)

Posted by Helmet Hair, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Shouldn't those children be wearing bicycle helmets?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Atherton
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm

And how will they learn the math if they keep being taken out of the classroom to do this type of publicity stunt?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:17 pm

The use of balloons was a stupid choice to teach children about "carbon footprint".

Balloons are environmentally unkind, and are probably made in China.

Additionally, allowing helium balloons to float away poses a danger to birds, fish (if they land in water), and electrical lines.

Anymore great ideas?

Posted by Pennyfarthing, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Government indoctrination--next they will be taught to goosestep to school.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Awake, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Here is just one of many facts that you eco global warming people overlook or dismiss. There is classic truth in the computer world that with garbage (data) in you get garbage (data) out.

Penny Ellson and Al Gore are not a scientists nor are they trained in meteorology. Yet they push this nonsense on climate change data that can be neither verify nor explain as to the method of acquisition. The translation of this behavior is either they are blowhards or a preachers in the temple of nonsense.

So for those who are fair minded have a read of this: Web Link and consider just this simple question.

Where has all this climate data come from? Not from a source you can trust.

Now where did I put my bag of rice?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2008 at 7:59 pm

What a nice day and learning experience for the kids. Luckily they won't have to see the vitriolic and spiteful remarks written here. The Palo Altans I know aren't so overly analytical and mean-spirited.

Posted by Ban Balloons, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 23, 2008 at 8:12 pm

I think that the organizers of this event need to complete a remedial class on environmental education.

The use of black balloons to help children visualize how much carbon dioxide is emitted during a car trip to school was clearly not a good choice.

I hope that people understand how dangerous and unnecessary all balloons are. They have no place in any Earth Day Event.

Posted by Are you serious?, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 11:17 pm

So where does it say they let the balloons free? Geez- get a life people! All you can do is complain? Here I was reading the article to see what my niece participated in today and now I guess I should tell her that she participated in an awful and controversial event. Seriously people.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:14 am

So criticism of the schools is inappropriate?

Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2008 at 7:40 am

I believe it to be very dangerous for children to be riding without helmets (and against the law). Why was this picture chosen?? I am sure there were many who rode their bikes in a safe and responsible way.

Posted by Another Palo Verde parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 8:40 am

To the two Palo Verde parents who are commenting on this bicycle with cart in front that is pictured on these pages, this family with one kindergartner and a couple of younger siblings rides this bike to school most days, usually riden by the mother, but sometimes the father. The whole thing goes along Louis and I personally think it looks very wobbly and would not like to ride it, if one of those kids suddenly moved...

Anyway, if you are so concerned, look around school and get to know the family.

Posted by Big Al, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 9:14 am

In response to your inquiry- the answer is (0f course) a resounding NO!
Are you not aware that are schools are immune to all forms of critiique,
whether it be from a local, state, or national source- or even god.
Please try to be more careful in the future.
There is learning going on here- and your comments may serve to detract and
negate all the wonderful things that we are bestowing upon the youth.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:05 am

Parent says, "What a nice day and learning experience for the kids."
The "nice day" part of the experience must refer to being outside on a lark and away from their books. I'm sure it was "fun".
But what about the "learning experience". Elementary school-age children do not have the scientific background to evaluate the technical information being foisted on them so it is indoctrination. The part about about signing a pledge reminds me of something I had to do in church when I was about 8 years old. This was a blot on on my conscience for some time. Signing pledges in elementary school is not appropriate--unless the purpose of the school is to raise suicide bombers like in Palestine.
What did the children learn either implicitly or explicitly?
It's evil to ride to school in an SUV. (Later, this will carryover to Henry Ford was evil, automotive engineers are evil, man's use of fast, convenient transportation, etc. is bad.)
There's something very bad about something called "greenhouse gas". (They don't know what that is, but it's bad.) They have no idea of the difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is black and will blot out the sky.
They are all evil and should feel guilty for disturbing the Earth.

Posted by PV Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:10 am

I asked my 4th grader what it was all about. He mentioned several buzz words, but got the context wrong. I asked him about the black balloon and he had forgotten about it. Every Wednesday Palo Verde has an assembly for school spirit, making announcements and saying the pledge. It seems that this assembly was the same length as usual. The value of what my child really learned was that it was "on the computer" so quickly and he was amazed at that and asked me all sorts of questions about how could that happen.

Often the lessons we think they are being taught are far different from what they actually do learn.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:14 am

Often children take in more than we realize.

Posted by give us a break, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Check your assumptions, folks. While I agree that there are valid criticisms of our schools, the vitriol and negativity expressed above is way off base.

o This event was was all about encouraging choices, not about guilt and finger pointing. To quote from the flyer sent home, "This event will encourage families to explore creative ways to reduce school commute car trips by choosing alternative modes of transportation like walking, bicycling, riding the bus or carpooling more often."
Not everyone can choose an alternative to driving solo, and there is no implication that those who do so are "evil." But many families who try it for a day see that it is fun, actually saves time and makes a big difference in the congestion at drop-off time.

o NO classtime was missed -- Palo Verde has a short weekly assembly every week, a time where the principal gives recognition to students, staff and volunteers for a wide variety of positive contributions to the school. The principal also addresses school-wide issues in a way that kids can connect with. Those of us who have experience with both the current principal and the previous principal know what a big difference this makes in the school climate. Kids who feel part of a broader community have fewer behavior problems inside and outside of class. By reducing behavior management issues in class, teachers have more time to teach.

o The balloon was NOT released into the sky and will be properly disposed of, so no harm to wildlife. The reduction of both CO2 and recognized air pollutants from having fewer cars clogging streets immediately adjacent to schools was a far greater benefit than any use of resources to manufacture and transport the balloon to the participating schools.

o To the best of my knowledge, no untrue statements were made about what is or is not causing global warming in either the publicity or the assembly. It is true, however, that choosing to walk, bike, carpool or take the bus means reduced production of CO2 compared to driving just one's own kids.

I'm not one of the organizers of this event but I do appreciate the parents who volunteered to make this event happen all across our district. Quite apart from environmental concerns, our schools are all landlocked and the increased number of students means that existing drop off areas are inadequate for the number of vehicles. The spillover congestion builds ill will for the district, and engineering fixes cost money that neither the district nor the city have.

Thank you to those volunteers and school staff who are working on positive solutions to these problems.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2008 at 1:37 pm

A quote from the story is "we really have the potential to blot out the sky". This is worse than Chicken Little. I didn't just fall off the turnip truck; this is NOT about the drop-off problem in front of the school.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:03 pm

This is a PTA event, organized by parents, not the school district. It is strictly voluntary, and if anybody disagreed with the content and goals they were free to dissent. The fact that there was overwhelming participation at so many schools is a sign that the complainers on this forum are out of step with the vast majority of parents of young children in Palo Alto.

Posted by Penny Ellson, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:03 pm

To clarify, these events do not take away from instructional classroom time. PAUSD, appropriately, is very protective of the time our children spend in the classroom.

Most of the schools run their events BEFORE the starting bell, as children are arriving at school. The balloon (one per school, properly disposed of by the adult organizer at each school) is displayed with a sign explaining what it represents (The amount of C02 generated by an average PA school commute.) Actually, while it is true that I am not a scientist, a scientist did help with developing this instructional tool and program. We wanted to make sure it was accurate. Some schools may do a brief presentation during their regularly scheduled assembly program, as was the case at Palo Verde.

The purpose of the event is to get as many people to try alternative modes as create a FUN community event...during which we hope families will discover the many benefits of walking and biking to school. Our family loves walking and biking to school. We hold hands and talk about the children's day while the details are fresh in their minds. I meet their friends, their friends' parents, and their teachers. We connect with neighbors. We get exercise. By reducing car trips, we improve street safety and reduce noise, traffic congestion, and pollution in our community. We also use the opportunity to teach and practise safe street skills with our children. All of these are good things.

Our objective is simply to encourage people who can to try alternative modes for a day. No guilt. We understand that some people have busy mornings or a lot of things to carry to school. Sometimes biking, walking, carpooling, riding the bus just won't work. However, the message is, "Use alternative modes whenever you can." Our purpose is to get people thinking creatively about all of their transportation options each time they leave the house, and to ask them to consider using alternative modes more often.

I agree that children should ALWAYS wear a helmet when they ride. It's the law...and a helmet protects the brain in case of a crash. I didn't select the picture that ran. It's unfortunate that the people pictured were not demonstrating safe practises. An important part of the traffic safety education we do with Palo Alto children is to teach rules of the road. At the top of that list is: "Wear a helmet every time you ride. It protects your brain and it is the LAW."

There seems to be a lot of misinformation being created about the event in this thread. The reports that I have gotten from people who participated at various schools so far sound as though families and students had fun and started thinking about new ways to get to school. That's what we hoped.

I want to thank the many parent volunteers who helped to make these events happen at schools all over the district. Your dedicated volunteerism is a blessing that most of us appreciate.

Penny Ellson, PTAC Traffic Safety Committee 2007-8 Chair

Posted by sally, a resident of Ohlone School
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

This sets a terrible example, those children are not wearing helmets


Posted by WHAT?, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:26 pm

I am sick by the comments that I have read above. You people are not right.

Is there nothing else to comment on that you have to attack a weekly school assembly?

Thank you so much to "give us a break", your explanations were clear and accurate.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Just the inference that we need some ivory tower pedant to tell us, right after we gassed up fo a price double what I paid for my first car, the benefits of biking and walking is presumptuous. Those cars clogging the freeways morning and evening are not Sunday drivers [that dates me] but working folk trying to get to the job in the face of obstacles thrown up [disincentives] by nanny naggers.
When the schools figure out how to teach the kids to read there might be time left for social engineering.

Posted by Teach By Example, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Children learn from the examples set by their parents.

If you walk or bike, your children will too.

If you let your children know that you are combining shopping trips to save gas, time, and reduce air pollution, they WILL understand.

If you recycle, your kids will too.

If you let your child know that wasting water is seriously threatening the habitat of our beautiful watershed (The Tuolumne River), where there has been a serious decline in fish population this year, they WILL understand.

If you tell them that we should conserve water because we may run out of clean water in the future, they WILL understand.

If you tell them that it uses 4-6% of all the energy in our State just to get water to your home and treat it at the wastewater treatment plant, they will probably understand. This is A LOT of energy.

Kids are smarter than you think.

If they see you use cloth shopping bags, they will too.

If they see that you remember to turn off your lights to save energy (and money), they will too.

If they see that you are careful not to pour chemicals onto the dirt because it will contaminate our soil and groundwater, they WILL understand.

If they see that YOU care about the environment, they will too.

If you show respect for living things (from the smallest creatures to our trees), your children will also be in tune with the environment.

If your children see YOU pick up a single piece of trash on your next trip to the beach, this registers in their mind that YOU care.

If you are environmentally sensitive, chances are your children will be too.

Teach by example.

Posted by Richard, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:47 pm

One third of Palo Alto's morning car traffic is for school trips. Most of these trips are short enough that they could be made by walking or biking. Considering the state of our air and the obesity epidemic that is sweeping our country, it makes sense to encourage kids to power themselves to school. Whether you believe in man-made global warming or not, encouraging kids to adopt a cleaner and more physically active lifestyle is a winner for everyone.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2008 at 7:06 am

That woman with her kids would be a commonplace scene in the Netherlands. Everybody bikes there, and a lot of people use those box bikes for carrying cargo and children. Nobody wears a helmet, and their bike injury rate is far lower than ours. Why? Since everybody and their grandmother rides a bike, the people driving cars know how to drive safely around bikes and they are more considerate of bikers.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2008 at 8:31 am

Richard, would you accept a job as transportation Czar, where everyone had to call you for permission to drive anywhere? Where you got to decide whether the request was worthy?

Posted by you people find joy in nothing, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 8:31 am

So this women decides to invest in an expensive dutch bike to kart her kids to school and get another car off the streets (something usually akin to sainthood with the hippies around here)and you people want to lynch her for child endangerment???

Get a life. People like you are the reason we have more rules and laws and more people in prison than anywhere else on earth.

How on earth did the helmet-less generations before us ever survive???

If anything, this modern safety conscious society is hindering the process of natural selection. If it wasn't for all the airbags in cars and helmets on bikes lots of stupid people wouldn't be here on this earth to generally annoy me with their clatter about child endangerment laws.

Go fourth and try to enjoy something for once. I dare you to enjoy something!

That is all, I'm off to kick some homeless people now, good day to you sir.

Posted by Richard, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:06 am

Walter, all I supported was encouragement for an active and healthy lifestyle. What is your objection to that? Is there anything good about children being driven a half mile to school every day?

Posted by Suzan, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:30 am

- Whether you believe in man-made global warming or not, encouraging kids to adopt a cleaner and more physically active lifestyle is a winner for everyone.

O dear richard, the local Palo Alto car culture is brought on by several factors one is the compression of time, another is the lack of safety on the streets for our children. Here are two recent incidents for your consideration.

Web Link

Web Link

With the failure of the government to keep the streets safe and the needs of people to compete in modern society having the keys to the car allow us all to keep pace with our day and our kids safe from the fellows mentioned in the web links.

Richard exactly why should I comply with your idea of a perfect world?

Posted by a, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:40 am

You could keep your cars and feel less guilty about driving so much if people just stopped buying things made outside of the U.S. There's so much fuss, and pomp and circumstance over riding bicycles versus driving a car. What about all those Chinese imports you buy every single day!!!!! Folks, that's a whole lot of CO2 you put up into the atmosphere. Who cares if you drive a Prius or walk or bike to school. It doesn't matter because everything else you use and buy, your cell phones, your computers, your food, your utensils, your beds, your mattresses, your furniture all comes from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, or Singapore. And that's a lot of miles from here and those countries burn up a lot of gas to make all that stuff for you and ship it over to the U.S.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:42 am

Yes, we should all wrap our children up in the safe confines of a car and not teach them independence. When they become adults they will be so scared to live their own lives that they have to hide away.

Stop it Stop it.

Our kids need to be taught that there is a big bad world out there, but they also need to be taught how to live in it. Driving them everywhere, just in case, will more likely make them as paranoid as some seem to be already.

Posted by Suzan, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 25, 2008 at 11:26 am

Stop it Stop it. you say?
Our kids need to be taught that there is a big bad world out there - you say?

What would you be doing while in the hospital healing from your wounds?

> He was taken to the hospital for treatment of bruises and cuts on his head and face.

> the man — who referred to himself as "Jesse" — grabbed her buttocks and twice tried to pull her toward him before she was able to push him away and run to the school.

I say stop the Palo Alto crime wave first. Make this a happy place that it once was instead of a haven for criminals today. Then you may peddle your pet social experiment project.

Posted by sally, a resident of Ohlone School
on Apr 25, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Well, I suppose one reason people can support ridding without a helmet is that you can recycle their organs as donors when they end up brain dead

Very altruistic

Also as the Dutch have no problem with mercy killing that must expedite the process their

Meanwhile in Palo Alto we have armed robberies of ice cream stores where high school students work and violent robberies of people walking through parks

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Walking to school is a social experiment? Boy, do you have it backwards. Kids have been walking to school for many decades. The social experiment that began in the mid-90s is driving them everywhere, and we are now seeing the results. Nobody is suggesting that small children should walk alone to school. The threat of abduction is easily countered by traveling in groups, having one parent walk with the youngsters. This "walk-pooling" makes it safe for the kids and easier for the parents.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2008 at 5:09 am

Richard, you still don't get it. It is presumptous of you to imagine you have some high insight that others lack. We allow criminals the presumption of innocence, why not allow fellow folk the presumption of competency? Much evil in this world starts when someone assumes he has the obligation to correct the failings of others.
This presumptuousness is, alas, epidemic in Palo Alto.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 26, 2008 at 5:18 am

Hi Walter, we like to call it "Raising Awareness". :)

Posted by ol' lady, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2008 at 5:51 am

The funniest comment of all the ones above is the one that states that the Palo Altans the poster knows are not so "overly analytical"....uhhh, that is the point.

Lack of analytical thinking, propounded by the Democrat and Union controlled public education system for the last 40 years, supported by well-meaning but illogical and emotional very liberal PTAs, who are mainly good hearted women, has resulted in people under 40 swallowing garbage like this without analysis.

As for those of you who say there is nothing wrong with encouraging biking and walking, I agree. But to use the assumption that cars are going to kill us all with global warming so you better ride your bike is plain wrong. Everything about it is wrong. We are not going to burn the earth up, that is a fallacy. And, even if we were, to scare a bunch of kids over something they have no control over is plain evil. May as well start telling the kids that they will die from cancer or heart attacks if they eat a candy bar in order to get them to eat in a healthier way.

The way healthier alternatives is taught around here is black and white, extremist, and frankly abusive to our youth.

Posted by ol' lady, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2008 at 5:53 am

Did you know that to rid the earth of our impact ..we would have to cease to exist?

REALLY. Even if we stopped the use of all engines in the world, we would still be breathing out CO2

Posted by bakfiets, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Not sure if it's possible to elevate this conversation any or even to get the dialog to be a bit more respectful. Would we talk to eachother this way face to face?

re: helments. yes, it's been legislated. Usually there are 4 kids in there plus a couple of bags of groceries underneath the seats. but more on this:

re: the bike. Donald is spot on. Bakfiets is manufactured in the Netherlands, is engineered beautifully, and is currently imported by some delightful folks that really know bikes, see If it looks wobbly as it makes it's way on it's daily 1/2 mile journey, it is only rider error. If anyone want's to take a test ride, I'm certain it could be arranged though the people.

Posted by PV Parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 28, 2008 at 9:04 am

I am amazed at the bad manners of some of the comments here. If this picture had been posted and the kids were wearing helmets, then I am sure everyone would be delighted in this wonderful bicycle. I have seen the family several times around school but have never had the opportunity to get to know them. But, hey, this just may be a family who have moved here from Holland, and since in other countries it is not necessary to wear helmets, so they are not doing so because they are not aware of the law. From my understanding, the law is only for those on bikes, scooters or skateboards anyway (although I could be wrong). How about giving the family the benefit of the doubt and just appreciate the fact that they are not driving to school every day.

If this family are newcomers and find out about this thread, I feel sure that they will be hurt by some of the remarks. Is this the way to treat young families in our schools. I hope not.

To the family involved, welcome to Palo Verde, we are a lot nicer than this column suggests. I hope to get to meet you at school sometime and keep on making the walk to school safer for me and mine.

Posted by Bravo, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Thank you PV Parent...

Posted by a, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 30, 2008 at 11:00 am

Just buy American Made, and you've taken the equivalent of millions of cars off the road. Just Buy American Made and you've reduced your carbon footprint by two-handfulls.

Eat locally grown, buy locally made.

Posted by k corbett, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2008 at 11:24 am

about the bike/helmet issue:

Based on speeds attained, I suspect the need for a helmet in a bakfiets would be akin to the need for a helmet in a jogging stroller.

But I don't want people to get any ideas about the jogging stroller!

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