Roosevelt Flag System Aimed at Curbing Asthma
For those who are new to the Valley of the Sun, you might be surprised to know that at one time, the Phoenix area was the top city that doctors would recommend for asthma patients looking for a more livable climate. But that was 50 years ago and the times and air quality have changed dramatically.
“That was back in the 1950s … it’s not so anymore,” said Roosevelt School District nurse Mary Chick, pointing out that asthma and other breathing ailments affecting students is a serious concern for the district and parents. “The three zip codes in the South Mountain area: 85041, 85042, and 85040 are the highest zip codes with asthma cases in the state.”
To help battle the problem for its young students, Roosevelt recently teamed up with the Maricopa County Asthma Coalition and the American Lung Association to institute a flag system that will alert parents, teachers and administrators to the air quality outside and allow them to determine whether children should be playing outside.
It’s one of only two school districts in the country to have such the system for children who have asthma or allergy symptoms. Through the program, the school puts up a flag with a certain color to warn parents what the pollution is like and whether they will be allowing children to play outside that specific day.
The flags are in place at Sierra Vista, Rose Linda, Martin Luther King, Valley View, VH Lassen, and the district office. The flag color symbolizes the level of severity in the air: Red= very severe; Orange= unhealthy; Yellow =moderate; Green =good.
“On orange and red days, asthmatics should not be outside,” said Chick, “Most of the schools are finding different ways for children to exercise: in cafeterias, indoor gyms, libraries, and computer labs.” The color of the flag is determined by the air quality index for the day.
With the Valley’s growth over the last 50 years, what used to be considered a good climate for asthma patients has become one of the most problematic.
The main reason is not only car and air pollutants, but the proximity to South Mountain.
“(The Valley has) mountains on all four sides of us, and it keeps air settled in … South Phoenix is so close to South Mountain, it keeps the air from clearing out,” said Chick.
One month ago, kids at Rose Linda Elementary School witnessed how badly asthma can affect their lives. A fifth grader at the school died from complications stemming from her asthma. In the Roosevelt School District, 12,000 school days were lost due to children with asthma, said Chick. She urges parents not to be upset when their children don’t get to play outside; she reminds them that it’s done in the children’s best interest.
Teachers and parents are both getting briefed on what the program signifies for them and their children. Teachers will receive a power point presentation in order to educate the children on the air and its pollutants and parents will be notified via a letter from the school principal.
Chick’s goal is to get every one of the schools in the Roosevelt School District to have the “flag system”, but she adds that funding is the key to the program. A set of four flags (red, orange, yellow and green) cost $100. The organization is accepting donations through Phoenix Children’s Hospital. For more information, contact Hazel Chandler at 602-546-0338
Did you know….
- There are over 120,000 children diagnosed with asthma in the Valley.
- Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism nationwide, including Maricopa County.
- Per capita, Arizona is the second highest state for asthmatics. Only Maine has a higher number per capita.
- In the Roosevelt School District, 12,000 school days were lost due to children with asthma.
- Most of the plants in the surrounding area are not native plants to Arizona, therefore contributing to allergies and asthma symptoms (i.e. Bermuda grass is not a native plant of Arizona).