Living Green: Reducing heat is cool for schools

August 2, 2023

Excessive heat in our school environments is a concerning issue, so it’s good to see it being addressed with initiatives such as the School Extreme Heat Action Plan Act of 2023.

This bill requires schools to create their own Extreme Heat Action Plan, including replacing heat-holding surfaces with cooler solutions, as well as installing shade trees and mini-forests to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat and pollution.

There’s no timeline set down for when these actions need to occur, but even if the bill doesn’t pass in its current form, cooling our schools is of vital importance. Increasingly hot summers due to the climate crisis are only going to make shade and cool surfaces even more crucial.

Why is that? For kids, extreme heat is particularly dangerous, even more so than for adults. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made it clear that children are at a greater risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses that can cause nausea, muscle cramps, fatigue and fainting.

Studies have shown that students perform worse on tests when they’re hot, and they learn less efficiently. Motivation drops, attention wanders and reaction time dwindles.

There’s some evidence, too, that people are more violent and aggressive when it’s hot outside, which is an obvious danger in a school environment. Acting out in class and bullying on the playground are much more likely to occur when kids are prickly and irritable.

Because they play and practice outside, school athletes are at high risk of heat-related illness, particularly football players.

None of this is earth-shattering news. We know what many schools are like: heat shimmering play and communal areas, which often consist of asphalt, concrete, synthetic turf, and other plastic surfaces that can overheat and melt. They can be dangerously hot just to touch, and without shaded areas, there’s no respite.

Those surfaces create heat islands that can absorb heat during the day and release it slowly at night, meaning there’s no relief from the heat. Because these surfaces don’t absorb water like traditional turf, water runs off of them, and that can carry with it toxic chemicals with health dangers of their own.

The most vulnerable students are also the most vulnerable to issues arising from extreme heat. Lower income areas often don’t have the funds to invest in heat mitigation infrastructure. African American and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by risks of heat-related health problems.

Trees and turf cool naturally. Trees provide shade, and along with grass, shrubs and gardens, they can help to block and absorb those harmful runoff chemicals. Shade trees and mini-forests provide refuge and comfort on hot days. They’re also extremely beneficial for the peace of mind of students and staff.

Initiatives like the Cool Schools Bill are vital not just for our children today but for future generations too.

This article originally appeared on The Coast News here.

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