Empowering Future Eco-Minded Citizens: SSV’s Youth Air Quality Advocates Program


In many communities, poor air quality remains an invisible threat. Sustainable Silicon Valley (SSV) is on a mission to change this through their Youth Air Quality Advocates (YAQA) program. This initiative, funded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), is a vital step towards addressing air pollution and its profound impact on communities. In this article, we’ll explore how the YAQA program is empowering students and educators to make a difference in their local air quality.

The Air Quality Conundrum

Air quality is often overlooked because it’s not something we can easily see or smell. However, this doesn’t make it any less harmful. Poor air quality can develop gradually over years, quietly impacting the health, quality of life, and economic prosperity of communities. YAQA seeks to address this conundrum by bringing air quality issues to the forefront and engaging the youth to be part of the solution.


Dr. Mohammed Ali interacts with YAQA students at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose

The YAQA Program in Action 

The YAQA program continues to provide educators in the East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) with the tools they need to educate students about air pollution. Here’s how the program works:

  1. Learning and Sensing: Students are introduced to the intricacies of air pollution and provided with low-cost portable air quality sensors developed in-house by SSV. These sensors allow students to collect real-time air quality data.
  2. Analysis: Armed with data, students learn analytical techniques to interpret and understand the information they’ve collected. This process not only fosters critical thinking but also allows students to identify patterns and trends in their local air quality.
  3. Action: YAQA isn’t just about learning and analyzing; it’s about taking action. Students are encouraged to use their newfound knowledge to implement solutions that can improve air quality in their communities.
  4. Workforce Development: The program goes beyond the classroom by involving tech corporate volunteers who share STEM career paths, job and scholarship opportunities, and provide skill-building workshops. This holistic approach prepares students for future careers and active participation in environmental issues.
BackpAQ App

YAQA Accomplishments in Year 1

In its first year, the YAQA program achieved significant milestones:

  • Teacher and Student Engagement: The program successfully engaged 907 students and 9 teachers across 7 schools. It introduced them to the intricacies of air pollution, providing low-cost portable air quality sensors developed in-house by SSV. These sensors allowed students to collect real-time air quality data.

ESUHSD Teacher Quotes:

“This is a great way to talk about the chemistry of air quality and how it affects everybody”

“The labs are really cool and engaging and fit right in”

“The materials are a valuable resource. They offer interactive and engaging activities to help students grasp complex concepts in subjects like chemistry”

YAQA Goals for Year 2

In the second year of the program, YAQA has set ambitious goals for further evolution and broadening its impact:

  • Grow Student Participation: YAQA aims to expand its reach to over 2,500 students in the entire East Side Union High School District, San Jose.
  • Grow Teacher Participation: YAQA is plan to double the number of teachers trained to implement the YAQA curriculum to 17, ensuring even more educators can educate and empower their students about air pollution.
  • Grow School Participation: YAQA is striving for 100% participation from the five remaining high schools in the ESUHSD district, ensuring that no school is left behind in learning about air quality issues.
  • Grow Ecosystem: Involve students from diverse disciplines, including journalism, arts, biology, and more. This will make the program more inclusive and expand the audience learning about air quality concepts through a variety of lenses.
  • Enhanced Workforce Development: YAQA will work to promote STEM career paths and provide relevant skill-building opportunities, career exposure, and even local job opportunities.


The Youth Air Quality Advocates program is a beacon of hope for communities impacted by poor air quality. By educating and empowering the next generation, Sustainable Silicon Valley is not only improving the quality of life today but also ensuring a sustainable, healthier future for all. Building upon the YAQA program successes in year 1 and setting ambitious goals for year 2, young minds are becoming the catalysts for change, transforming air quality from an abstract concern into a tangible, solvable problem.

Interested in Getting Involved?

SSV is looking for volunteers to help expand the program. Specifically, we need additional YAQA program facilitators who can assist teachers as they prepare and conduct their air quality experiments, observations and analysis.

If you are a chemistry/biology/physics or environmental science/studies high school senior or college student (or graduate) who is interested in training and supporting our YAQA teachers, contact Drew Clark at [email protected].