Cool (but Not Cold) Students Learn Better

By: Nicole Engelke – The Charter Opinion / Editorial – 

This school year kicked off in the dark. All the unnecessary lights were shut off in hopes of not heating up the school more with the heat from the fluorescent light bulbs. Sweaty students struggled to pay attention in their muggy classrooms. As the summers get hotter and hotter, the need for air conditioning in schools grows along with the temperature.

Like many other schools in the district, ACA does not have air conditioning. With this summer’s extreme heat wave, the school asked families to bring electric fans to school with them throughout the first month of the new school year.

Prior to this, many forest fires began burning in the Columbia gorge and filled the air with smoke, soot, and ash. This summer in Oregon, the amount of land burned was around equal to the size of Rhode Island. Because of this the windows could not be opened and any hope of the end-of-summer breezes were lost. Box fans and oscillating fans were placed in classrooms and hallways in an attempt to circulate the stuffy air.

Some believe that students behave and concentrate better when it is not blazing hot in their classroom. When asked their opinion, a student agreed that, “It does get really humid at school near the beginning of the school year, and it gets bad enough that it can make it hard to focus sometimes. The music room is particularly bad in the heat…”

A parent at ACA, Christine Engelke, says, “My 9th grader at ACA had a great deal of trouble paying attention in class on those hot days.” She also believes that when the students are comfortable they learn much better. “We considered staying home those days, but since it was the beginning of the year, we went anyway and sweated it out.”

A study done by an undergrad at Loyola University concluded that a student’s memory was negatively impacted when the classroom was too hot or too cold. A memory test conducted on students showed significantly higher scores when they were tested in a room that was 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Something to consider as well is that the teachers and ES’s have to start working a few weeks before school even begins for the students. Most staff members return to ACA mid August, which is one of the hottest, muggiest times of the summer. Having air conditioning would help the teachers feel more comfortable while they are preparing for the students’ arrival and while teaching their classes.

According to Danelle Till, an ES and bookkeeper at ACA, “we do have air conditioning…some portable ones that the PAT bought for us a few years back.”

However having a few portable air conditioners to lug around when we need them is not enough. ACA needs something permanent and suited for the school and the students.

According to office staff in the district, only 3 out of the 14 schools have air conditioning. Last year, around 30 school days had an indoor temperature over 80 degrees. This year it has been over 40 days and counting. For OCSD students the school year usually continues into June.

One option for air conditioning would be installing it into the building. That would be effective, but potentially dangerous for the people installing it as it is a very old building. It would also be very expensive. The building also belongs to the district and as a charter school we can not alter it without the district’s approval.

A better way we could solve this dilemma would be to install window air conditioning units in the classrooms. This would cost much less than central air conditioning.

Another school district in Ohio had this same issue in all of their schools. In 2016 they bought quiet window unit air conditioners for all of the schools in the district for a cost of $500 per unit. ACA needs about 20 of them, and at $500 each that would amount to $10,000. This is a reasonable amount of money to raise through fundraising events such as auctions, raffles, and other such events.

When asked about the effectiveness of the window units, the Director of Business Affairs for the school district in Ohio, Dean Sandwisch, stated, “They keep the rooms plenty cool, even in the warmest, most muggy days. Teachers report having a better start to the school year as the room is comfortable and energy levels from both students and staff are up. Students and teachers both report allergy symptoms are down as well.”

Window air conditioning units would be the most cost effective solution and would increase student and staff concentration and comfort during the first weeks of school. No matter what solution is implemented, the situation needs to be addressed.