Impact of hot days in schools

Angela Hall is an elementary school teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

As stagnant, hot air fills the classroom during heat advisories, Angela feels more like she’s in “survival mode” than “teaching mode.” In her years as a teacher, she has learned the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke as students lose their appetites, feel dizzy, and get nauseous. Without air conditioning during summer school, Angela and her fellow teachers have to get creative to supply relief to their students — whether it be bringing oscillating fans from home or taking a trip down the block to the splash park. Without relief, students’ ability to learn is fogged and their health is at risk.

Oftentimes, teachers are forced to separate students that are at higher risk of health effects from extreme heat due to medical conditions. After being placed in the library, the only air-conditioned room in the building to protect their health on hot days, these students often express feeling excluded from their peers and friends. However, periodic emergencies stress the importance of these precautionary measures. Angela recalls a scary day when a student’s asthmatic symptoms became so bad in the extreme heat that the paramedics were called.

More generally, Angela feels heat takes a major toll on students’ ability to learn. It disrupts normal lessons, can cause a sense of lethargy, and makes it difficult for students to concentrate. Students who attend summer school — when extreme heat is most pronounced — are those who fall below a certain proficiency level. For them, summer is supposed to be a time to catch up on school work when in reality, students have to worry about dehydration and heat stroke.

This story is excerpted from from Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health in Wisconsin (pdf)

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and do not represent official policy or position of the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.