Now Flying: School Air Quality Flags

American Lakes Elementary

Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails’ (BCSET) offers an Air Quality Flag Program designed to help teachers, school staff, coaches and parents protect children’s lungs on days when poor air quality poses a health threat.

Colored flags – each representing a different air quality health category ranging from good (green) to very unhealthy (purple) – are flown each day on school campuses to identify air quality conditions. Our Air Quality Index Activity Chart is used in conjunction with the flags. The color coded chart is a guide to modify activities on days when air quality is especially bad. Charts are sent home with each student and large versions are displayed at the schools.

During the warmer months, higher temperatures worsen ozone and particle pollution and poor air quality becomes a serious health issue for thousands of Sacramento area residents, especially children. The flags are one of many measures that can help reduce harmful exposure to higher than usual levels of airborne pollutants. Asthma, increased susceptibility to illnesses such as bronchitis, and interference with lung growth can all result from consistent exposure to poor air quality. However, adjusting to air quality levels — such as holding physical education classes indoors on bad air days — can protect children from long-term health risks.

This spring, BCSET continued its partnership with the SCUSD Health Services Department to implement 7 total flag programs in the Sacramento City Unified School District. Three new schools started the School Flag program as part of their clean air education during their summer session (reaching approx. 1,000 students/families).

At Maysuyama Elementary School two sixth grade students have been trained to check the Air Quality Index, select, and fly the appropriate flag for that day. After a school assembly and classroom presentation, a 1st grade student at Matsuyama said, “With the green flag I can play all day and not worry about my lungs!” all while running around the classroom with the green flag.

Matsuyama Elementary

Students at James Marshall Elementary in charge of the flag program were asked what they like about the program. One student replied, “I like putting the flags up each day for all the other kids to see. I like talking to the little kids about what they should do each day.”

BCSET’s School Flag program is designed to protect children’s developing lungs, reduce local air pollution through education and increased community awareness, and fostering California’s next generation of environmental stewards, all in all, creating positive change for the future. Since 2007, the Elementary School Air Quality Flag program has been implemented in more than 25 schools across Sacramento and Placer Counties.

For more information about the School Flag program, please contact Program & Event Manager Jenny Matchell at 916-444-5900 x 217 or

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