Questions for ‘Older diesel school buses linked to more student absences’

a bunch of kids are sticking their heads out of the windows of their yellow school bus. They are waving and smiling.

Many school districts won rebates to replace or upgrade old diesel school buses. The goal: to reduce kids’ exposure to pollution. Student attendance improved in schools that upgraded their buses, suggesting that they kept kids healthier.

lisagagne/E+/Getty Images Plus

To accompany Older diesel school buses linked to more student absences


Before Reading:

  1. The hydrocarbon molecules in the liquid fuels that most motor vehicles run on are relatively large; each contains dozens of atoms. What do you think happens to those big molecules as the fuel is burned in a car’s engine? Where might the waste products of this process go?
  2. Do you predict the air quality in a typical city would be better, worse, or the same as a region with fewer people? Explain your reasoning.  
  3. What does it mean to say that a vehicle “runs on diesel”? What types of vehicles might be described in this way?

During Reading:

  1. On what type of fuel do most school buses in the United States and Canada operate? List two pollutants emitted as this fuel is burned.
  2. Between 2012 and 2017, how did emissions from buses in “winning” school districts change? How did student attendance change?
  3. According to brain scans, how does exposure to diesel emissions affect the brain?
  4. What does Jay Shimshack conclude is the “most likely reason” for fewer student absences in school districts that got money to make changes to their buses? 
  5. How did upgrading pollution controls in old buses affect students in the 2011 study? 
  6. State one question that must be addressed in future studies, according to Shimshack.

After Reading:

  1. The story mentions a new rebate program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, set to run through 2026. How does this new program differ from the older program described in the story? Based on what you’ve read, predict two impacts of the new program on students. Briefly explain each prediction. Support each prediction with findings from one of the studies described in this story.
  2. Besides school buses, come up with something people might use on a day-to-day basis that could affect our health in unexpected ways. Write your response in the form of a question. Design and describe a study that could help test this idea.