Granger High students reflect their bad air through art

town in the west valley • Annie Scarber formed a powerful memory during her freshman year in the Salt Lake Valley.

She was about 6 years old when she pointed her finger at a gray cloud concentrating under the mountains. She had never seen anything like it in her native Arizona.

It was then that her father introduced her to a word that would become part of her vocabulary for the next few years:


“When I first found out about it,” Scarber said. “[I thought] ew, that’s kind of gross, it’s like a soup bowl.”

Her family then lived in a dorm near the University of Utah in east Salt Lake City. But for the past seven years, the 16-year-old’s home has been in West Valley City, and that cloud isn’t far away, it’s part of her everyday life.

(Alixel Cabrera | The Salt Lake Tribune) Annie Scarber, a student at Granger High School, on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. An art class at the school is helping West Valley City youth think about their air quality and the solutions they are using would have liked to see.

Like her, many other teenagers who grew up on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley have heard about the bad air. Although not all of her fellow Granger High School students take a formal course to better understand the environment in which they live, an inter-school program is helping them research both the cause of this cloud and possible solutions to contain it.

All this through art.

Utah State University is organizing a competition among young students to market solutions to the pollution pervading the valley.

USU professors Edwin Stafford and Roslynn McCann initiated the competition in 2015. They came up with the idea after attending a Cache Clean Air Consortium summit, where Stafford said they noticed gaps in knowledge about air pollution in the area.

“There’s very little education for high schoolers,” Stafford said. “Most students tell us the contest is the only formal air pollution education in Utah.”

Wasatch Front and Cache County are familiar with bad air. Both areas are known to exceed national air quality standards during winter. But while collecting data from the air quality contest, Stafford discovered that some students’ responses indicated that “they are getting an accidental understanding of air pollution.”

Participants got creative, integrating different art mediums to send messages encouraging Utahns to do their part to stop contributing to the valley’s inversions.

(Saige Miller | KUER) Artwork by Granger High School students about air quality on Tuesday April 18, 2023.

Scarber used alcohol markers to draw a winning entry. Her work depicts a car with its own body and a passenger holding a key. Swirls mixed with words in italics surround it with keywords that they believe represent the air of the state – gross, disgusting, death and lung cancer.

“I was kind of a bit worried about the impending doom of our planet, that’s going to sound dramatic,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful planet, but we’re destroying it. It’s very sad.”

Environmental education is ‘too divisive’ for some parents.

Stafford gave a presentation on air quality and marketing for art students at Granger High this year. Alysson Galarza, an art teacher at the school, noted the same educational gap that Stafford had identified.

She said some of her students are aware of the bad air in Utah, and particularly the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Others, she said, didn’t know why they couldn’t see the mountains in winter.

“What surprises me,” Galarza said, “is that a kid at the high school level wouldn’t be familiar with it.”

To her, it’s “amazing” that environmental education isn’t widespread in Utah schools. But if it’s not in the curriculum, “teachers can’t always access it.” And in some cases, Galarza added, teachers get into trouble for teaching outside of the approved curriculum.

Stafford said parents are being asked why they think air quality education is not being taught in Utah schools.

“They openly say that our state is too conservative,” he said, “and that pollution is just something we can’t talk about in schools. It’s too politically divisive.”

The Air Quality Art Contest gives students a chance to use a creative outlet to educate themselves about the issue. Between three classes, Galarza said, students submitted about 75 pieces to the competition.

(Saige Miller | KUER) Alysson Galarza, an art teacher at Granger High School, poses in front of her students’ artwork on air quality on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

She noted that it sparked conversations about how students could change their behavior to limit their contribution to pollution. Galarza even pointed to her own guilt.

“My main problem is, actually, it’s kind of embarrassing, the Starbucks drive-thru,” she said. “I can just go to the café and buy my coffee. I don’t have to sit and wait in line for cars.”

Since the project, Galarza said, she’s broken that habit. Now she goes inside to get the drink of her choice.

Stafford said research shows it takes about six minutes for orders to be taken at the drive-thru. During this time, you “breathe the pollution that comes out of the tailpipe in front of you.”

Air quality presentations and competitions have changed perspectives and behaviors, according to Stafford’s data.

Survey analysis from previous years has shown that participants are more likely to act in ways that clean the air, such as B. the idling of their vehicle or the formation of car pools. And 43% of respondents believe they have changed the behavior of their peers and family members.

Granger art students support the research results. Many said they are more likely to walk to places around them, use public transport to get to school and encourage their families to stay inactive. They then explained that purifying the air they breathe is the right thing to do.

“Sometimes when I say to my parents, ‘Hey, you should turn off your key.’ They kind of laugh at me. They do, but they think it’s funny that I care so much,” Scarber said. “I do not find that funny.”

“It always surrounds me”

(Alixel Cabrera | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jade Gonzalez, a student at Granger High School, on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. An art class at the school is helping West Valley City youth think about their air quality and the solutions they are using would have liked to see.

When creating her artwork, Jade Gonzalez, who is in Galarza’s class, kept in mind all the harm that humans are doing to Earth. Her piece shows a woman’s slightly emaciated torso, representing Mother Nature. She wrote a message alongside: “Save her.”

Gonzalez, who has lived in West Valley City her entire life, said bad air has become a fact for longtime residents. Sometimes she has to go to other areas to realize how different the air can be.

“Going to the mountains, because even if it’s still in Utah, you can tell the air just feels different,” she said. “It feels nicer and cleaner. If you go to California or Mexico, for example, it just feels a lot fresher.”

Like other students, Gonzalez wants solutions like more commuters using public transit and bicycles. However, she believes that may not be enough unless larger waves of people join the effort.

“There’s just so many little things you can do, but honestly, not much of it helps unless a lot of people are doing it,” she said. “There’s just stuff we could do on a bigger scale that we haven’t done yet. But it’s really nice to see more people not idling their cars or riding their bikes to school instead of driving.”

(Saige Miller | KUER) Artwork by Granger High School students about air quality on Tuesday April 18, 2023.

For Wyatt Johnson, Junior at Granger, the brief was about using a familiar image to make a bold statement. He drew Uncle Sam, added a gas mask and changed the iconic message to “I want you to stop walking around”.

“I hope it can somehow help viewers understand that this whole situation is kind of bad,” he said. “We must get to work now to stop it.”

Though he started thinking about the change he hopes to bring to his community if he becomes a driver, he breathes the air of the West Side at home and at school, he said, and knowing it’s “dirty” is hard.

“It’s literally close to home,” he said. “It always surrounds me.”

Listen to KUER’s radio broadcast about the competition here:

This story is part of Reaching for Air – a collaboration between The Salt Lake Tribune, KUER and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation – which is studying air quality in communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. If you would like to share your story, please fill out this survey or leave a voice message at 385-419-2470.

Alix Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Your donation of our RFA grant helps her write stories like this; Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking Here.

Justin Scaccy

InternetCloning is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button