Ice packs and personal fans are just two of the ways Waimea High School students have been trying to stay cool in their sweltering classrooms this year.
“Yesterday, I was eating ice cream in one of my morning classes because it was so hot that I needed something,” said senior Mark Perpose, “and I have a fan that I keep in my bag.”
Perpose said sometimes he gets so hot that he sweats onto his schoolwork and he spends most of his time just wanting to get out of the classroom.
“None of us can focus,” Perpose said. “Instead of getting things done, you’re more focused on trying to get yourself cooled because you don’t want to pass out.”
Cierra Davis, also a senior, said she has a friend whose nose started bleeding because he was overheated in class.
“Kids from other schools have told us that they’re having to go to the office because they’re getting overheated, too,” Davis said, “and we can’t leave campus so we’re all just stuck here in the heat for like six hours.”
The one cool place on campus is the library, where students have been flocking during their free time, but school officials have decided to close that building during those times due to behavioral issues.
“Everybody crowds into the library and everybody gets annoyed because they’re hot and aggravated and trying to cool off,” said Mae Lynn Rita, a teacher. “There were too many conflicts, so they shut the building down during lunch.”
This year, the heat index has risen to over 100 degrees in some classrooms on the Westside of the island. In those conditions, students and teachers alike are having a hard time concentrating.
The school recently was one of the recipients of $2,500 to purchase fans through the state Department of Education and Hawaii 3 R’s, which is an organization that provides volunteer help with cash donations for repair of Hawaii schools.
The fans, however, aren’t the answer, according to those who go to Waimea High School.
“It’s not doing anything but pushing the hot air around and the kids complain about it,” Rita said. “It’s really dusty here and a lot of the kids have sinus allergies, so sometimes it just makes it worse.”
In an appeal for help from their community, students from a class called American Problems have written letters to the island in general detailing the situation. Rita said she has the letters, but hasn’t sent them anywhere, yet.
“In the class, kids look at community, state, and national problems and at possible solutions,” Rita said, adding the heat problem is the worst she’s seen in 25 years of teaching. “The idea is that the changes won’t happen until the community gets behind this idea that there needs to be better learning conditions for the kids.”
The best solution that the kids in the American Problems class have come up with is installing air conditioning in the classrooms.
“We have solar panels on almost every building and we can use the energy from the sun to power the air conditioners,” said senior Lauren Valenciano. “We’d have to block up the windows, but like on Oahu the DOE is giving them money to install the air conditioning units.”
According to the Hawaii Department of Education website, 145 portable air conditioning units have been purchased for the state’s hottest classrooms and more are on order, but the estimated cost of installing units in all DOE schools would be around $1.7 billion.
Annual electricity costs for the all of the HIDOE schools combined is $48 million and it is estimated that the addition of air conditioning units would increase that cost dramatically.
The Department of Education has created an AC priority list, but none of the Kauai DOE schools are on that list.
“It’s not fair,” Perpose said. “They’re thinking about the bigger schools. They’re not thinking about the small neighboring islands and it can get very hot here.”
Superintendent Bill Arakaki said schools are sending out letters to parents, teachers and staff with recommendations on heat preparation, as well as how to identify the signs of heat-related illnesses.
“It’s a top priority to be prepared and take necessary actions to insure the health and safety of our students and faculty during these extremely hot weather conditions,” Arakaki said in a statement to The Garden Island. “We also continue to accept donations from the public to assist with cooling of our classrooms.”
Perpose said he thinks the best way to change the heat situation at the school is to start a conversation about it within the community.
“We want to get the information out there so that people will know what’s happening to their students,” Perpose said. “We are asking our community to please help us.”
In the meantime, students are putting in writing how bad it can be.
Valenciano said she gets rashes that itch when she gets overheated and it’s hard to concentrate. Another heat-related issue is smell.
“Everybody is sweating and gross and they’re using deodorant and perfume all the time,” Valenciano said. “It gets overwhelming with all the body spray and body odor in the room.”