An empty hallway in a school. Posters line the walls and some wall hooks are holding bags.
Image Source: kyo azuma / Unsplash

Extreme Heat and the Push to Get Air Conditioning into Schools

Schools across the country are struggling to provide adequate air conditioning to classrooms amid a heat wave. Since the start of the school year, schools have closed or shifted schedules in over half the states in the country. Some have reverted to remote learning, while others have brought in the fire department to cool down students (Huffington Post).

Some of these school districts are located in areas that previously didn’t experience high temperatures. Others struggle with failing infrastructure. In either case, budget restrictions have made it difficult to meet the demand – especially for schools in underserved communities.

Heat doesn’t just make the classroom uncomfortable but ineffective, as well. Hotter temps make it harder for students to learn. A 2020 study found that for every 1°F temperature increase, student learning drops by 1% (Phys.org). The study also found that low-income and minority students were disproportionately affected, with heat impacting their academic achievement three times more than those with more privilege. 73% of this gap can be filled simply by adding air conditioning to classrooms.

TAKE ACTION

• Support a classroom on DonorsChoose by helping them get an air conditioning unit. Here are a few we recommend, but you can find more here:

Ms. Gutierrez’s Classroom in El Paso, TX, is just $399 away from their goal. Donate >
Ms. Zervakos’ Classroom in Wyandanch, NY, is just $271 away from their goal. Donate >
Mr. Bostock’s Classroom in Worcester, MA, is just $158 away from their goal. Donate >
Mrs. Nigro’s Classroom in Las Vegas, NV, is just $509 away from their goal. Donate >

• Research how rising temperatures are affecting classrooms in your community.

• Consider: is your community affected by its investment in educational infrastructure? How does climate change affect the school year?

“We show that only school-day exposure to higher temperatures affects test scores; hot summers and weekends have little impact on achievement and controlling for such exposure does not shrink the magnitude of impact of hot school days,” Harvard Kennedy School researchers found. “This suggests that heat’s disruption of instruction or homework time is responsible for the observed drop in test scores.” 

It also makes classrooms especially unsafe during a pandemic. Lack of air conditioning, and untenable conditions outdoors, reduce fresh airflow and add to the lack of circulating air indoors.

Heat also makes workplace conditions brutal for staff and administration. Teachers, already overwhelmed and overburdened with the challenges of teaching during a pandemic and economic crisis, are now faced with teaching in unsafe conditions. Teachers in Columbus, Ohio, were on strike this summer to get proper air conditioning installed in the district’s schools. And as the labor movement rallies teachers to demand better wages, safer working conditions, and adequate safety and security, we can expect more to add the impact of rising temperatures to their list of demands (CNN). 

Lastly, for many people across the country, public spaces like schools are spaces they depend on for cool air. At least 10% of the population currently doesn’t have air conditioning in their homes. Most are in states like California and may not have needed it historically but are currently struggling without (Energy At Haas). We can expect this to worsen; studies indicate that 2.5 to 3 billion people globally will need air conditioning to make conditions tenable by 2050 (CBS News).

In the absence of city or district-level support, teachers are left to address this issue on their own, asking friends and family for donations of fans and air conditioners or crowdsourcing funds outright. Already, teachers are forced to use their resources to support their classroom’s needs, spending an average of $500 of their own funds on basic supplies (NCES). Air conditioners cost at least that amount alone, so this is an added additional burden.

We’ve compiled a few fundraisers from teachers that highlight the problem. Ms. Krebs, a teacher in Cleveland, notes that their classroom has “one box fan on the floor but it does not quite do the job” (DonorsChoose). Ms. Reyna, who works with second graders in San Antonio, shares that her school building is so old that the classroom feels like a “tropical rainforest.” She hopes to raise $624 more to get an air conditioner and dehumidifier so her kids love coming to school again (DonorsChoose).

Today, we’re encouraging our readers to donate to any fundraiser on DonorsChoose. If you work at an organization, consider asking your colleagues to join in! It might seem small, but it can make a big difference for our students.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

• Rising temperatures across the country are complicating back-to-school efforts.

• Because many districts have overlooked investing in school buildings, many aren’t equipped to meet rising temperatures.

• Hot classrooms make learning and teaching difficult, impacting student performance and teachers’ morale.

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