these hot days…

Yesterday and today, Unit 4 sent Central High School students home early citing the high heat index. I have been encouraged by previous board members and administrators to see for myself what it is like to be in a classroom when the conditions outside start to resemble a sauna, and so that is exactly what I did over my lunch time.

At first I asked about coming in after the students had left. The principal, Mr. Joe Williams, suggested that if I had the time, perhaps I would benefit from seeing the kids (and teachers) in action. Which sounded like a great idea and I took him up on the offer. I opened the windows on my car during the drive over to get a little more “acclimated” if that is possible.  I was warmly greeted (no pun) by the principal in the air-conditioned entry foyer (I don’t know if that is what they call it, but that is what I’ll call it), and given two classrooms to go check out, one of the first floor and one on the third (top) floor. I was told that the thermostats were registering slightly higher readings on the first floor. I also found out that Channel 3 was right behind me (and here is their story). Lastly, I learned that having Central close up shop a little early totally (and negatively) affects the coordinated schedules with Centennial, in particular those students that are shuttled to and fro.

Once past the foyer,  the difference in temps was quite obvious – not only warmer, but definitely more humid as well. And as most Central Illinois folks know, it is the humidity that kills us. I knocked on the door of the first floor classroom and we introduced ourselves; several free-standing fans were attempting to help the open windows circulate air with little or no effect. The bell rang and students started to pile into chairs. Being totally new to the environment, it was interesting to observe how students (and adults for that matter) react differently to distracting climates and shorter class periods. And I got to thinking that perhaps I should come back in December and observe the difference. *grin* What would this class have looked like if it were cooler? Frankly, that was the whole reason I was there. As quoted by WCIA, the students kinda get used to it; they roll with the punches.

After about 10 minutes, I decided to head up to the third floor. Along the way, I noticed professionally dressed adults (one even had a tie) sweating profusely. That has got be hard! But they seemed energetic and pleasant, not letting a little warmth get in the way of a job well done. Climbing up the stairs, I expected to feel drastic changes, like passing through the thermocline of an old poorly-insulated house. But nope, didn’t notice anything except brightly lit hallways. The third floor classroom had fans at every desk in addition to the free-standing fans; I am thinking the former were much more useful, as shown by the students who practically hugged them. *grin* The third floor did indeed feel a little less stuffy. That is not to say it was comfortable enough to set out a hammock and take a nap – still really warm, still very humid, still sweating, just not quite as much. And again I wondered how things would be different if they had AC. I also wondered, since humidity is the “bad guy”, what would happen if the windows (and blinds/curtains) were all closed but the fans still going? Would that be worse? Better?

In talking with Stephanie Stuart and Mr. Williams, they (the school district) have already discussed several options, like putting AC units in every class. I am led to believe that the electrical draw would exceed the capacity of the building as it is, and to accommodate AC units would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $800k (all inclusive, with AC units). Which seems like a lot of money just to make things cooler. The big question is, is it worth it? Is building a new structure a better use of money? What do the kids really need? What do the staff need? (and I ask that to contrast what they all want, which is a different question) In both classes, I observed that some students were struggling while others were doing just fine. I do not know how much the weather played a role – there are so many variables. But I have no doubt that a cooler environment would raise morale and make some things easier.

To put a little twist on it, I can see how the staff are much more affected than the students. The staff have a dress code, whereas the kids have a LOT more flexibility on wearing comfortable clothes. The staff are in the building longer. And let’s face it, kids will be kids. 🙂 They remember things like a supremely hot summer school and they think “don’t want to do that again”; most kids are just going to move right along. So I give huge kudos to the staff at Central for creatively coming up with loaner fans, for putting on a smiling face even though I am sure they want to grumble about the climate, for serving our kids, our children, even when other buildings have air conditioning. Thanks, Central folks!

My question stands; to those I saw on the first and third floor (teachers and students), what do you need? Yes, the heat+humidity is a big issue, but it is one issue among many.


7 Responses to “these hot days…”

  1. pattsi Says:

    If the decision gods had not changed the windowsl at Central and Edison, windows could be opened, air could circulate, large attic fan would pull air through the building, etc. When one messes with a previous design, there is fall out. In addition for whatever reason, school begins now before Labor Day. Years past, the children would not be in school now. And people my age grew up without A/C and amazingly we did not turn into gee, actually became accomplished without burning down the out houses, and only hung a cat or two from the clothesline. Oh, yes, we walked or rode our bikes to school–no cars.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    For the record, the windows were open. At least in the classrooms – the big glass windows in the stairwell were a different story (I did not look at them closely, but I believe they were closed).

    As to Edison, I remember seeing a few windows that were open; broken, but open. 🙂

  3. Chuck Jackson Says:

    And let’s be realistic, this happens how many times a year?? If instruction can’t be effective, call a “snow day” and make it up (yea I know for one building out of the whole district it is a hassle). If the work can proceed, let’s move on – it would be reasonable to relax the teacher dress code though. $800K (to say nothing of the electrical needs) for less than ten days a year seems foolish.

  4. pattsi Says:

    Open is not necessarily open. I would be very interested to know exactly how much open window space was lost when the most architecturally inappropriate replacement windows were installed (No, I am not suggesting a research project.) Charles, how many farm sized fans were running in the building? Were the doors opens to help circulate the air. All of this is much less than $800 K. Or just change the start date of school. Look at the temp history, how many hot days are the after Labor Day. This costs no money at all. 🙂

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    @chuck: all by itself, I would agree, $800k for what you call 10 days a year does seem foolish. But I think we have to be careful how we say that, because the staff I am sure would welcome the chance to work in a air-conditioned building just like all the other buildings in the district. Plus, I get the impression that the AC is just one of the factors in the ultimate decision to build a new Central. Personally, I kinda like the building, but I have only been in it twice. I have not seen the “crumbling walls” or other defects that warrant a new building. This is why I ask the students and staff what they need. And for all intents and purposes, I believe more weight will be given to what the staff say just because students are there for four years and move on. And as mentioned above, they (the students) just roll with it. I think the adults have a harder time “just rolling with it”. But I could be wrong. (Don’t get me wrong, the adults do indeed roll with it – my point is that it just seems harder)

    @pattsi: I did not thoroughly analyze the windows to be able to answer your questions about them. What exactly is a farm-sized fan? All I saw where those basic floor-standing fans you see in most people’s houses (maybe 2 feet diameter?). Yes, all occupied rooms and most hallway doors were open. As to changing the start date, I have this gut feeling that when the current practice was set (how many hundreds of years ago?), the weather was probably a little different. What about relatively nice days in the middle of summer, can we just have spontaneous days of school? 🙂 Personally, I don’t think weather should determine if (or when) students are in a learning environment; obviously, ideas like “distance learning” and all the little niceties with online classrooms address this issue, but only for part of the population (those that have the necessary resources and those that have the necessary inclination).

    I do not know how to say this in such a way as to not offend at least one person, but…. do we Americans whine too much about how uncomfortable we are? In the grand scheme of things, we are quite rich compared to the rest of the world, and we have the resources and wherewithal to cancel school when it is too cold or too hot. If the temperature and humidity is such a big deal that we spend so much time talking about it (Weather channel,, “Boy, it sure is hot today!”), either we have it really well off in the rest of our lives, or we are quite delusional about our true problems.

  6. pattsi Says:

    Charles, let me try to address your questions and what you wrote.

    A farm-sized fan is 3-4ft square and move air significantly as compared to what you described. Faim fans are used in barns to cool animals, move air generally in farm buildings.
    As to the so-called condition of the building, I probably would ask the same questions related to benign neglect as I do related to the downtown jail. The replace.ment windows simply do not open.
    When school began and end was directly correlated to the needs on the farm. Now the Unit 4 and 116 schedule is coordinated with the UIUC schedule. This has occurred since I moved here. There is little to no regard to the weather. The main driver were parents who wanted their children in school when the university begins and ends and to be able to take the children on breaks coordinated with the university dates. If the children were taken out of school to go out-of-town during UIUC break, then the student was marked absent and lost the chance to be rewarded for perfect attendance.

  7. What one Central teacher needs | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] my last post, we talked about the lack of air-conditioning at Central, and via the comments we went over the […]

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