In 1 of the Largest Districts Most Needing A/C, 1,000 Hawaii Classrooms Get Cooled Off This School Year
Last week, Hawaii successfully completed its $100 million initiative to regulate the temperature of 1,000 public school classrooms. This project is part of the state’s ongoing endeavor to install air conditioning systems in the warm islands, as less than half of the classrooms currently have A/C.
Known as the heat abatement program, this initiative provides schools with various cooling solutions based on the capabilities of their buildings. These solutions include solar-powered air conditioning, insulation, ventilation systems to eliminate hot air, ceiling fans, and skylights that bring natural light without generating heat.
"The learning environment has become much more comfortable," said Talafaaiva Ealim, the senior class president of Nanakuli High School, according to the Star Advertiser. "Previously, we used to work in extreme heat, becoming sweaty and uncomfortable. Now, it’s much easier for teachers to impart knowledge as students are more attentive."
An additional 300 classrooms will have air conditioning installed by the end of September, utilizing the remaining funds from the $100 million from the Legislature. The Department of Education in Hawaii estimated that providing A/C to every school in the state could cost up to $1.7 billion.
Despite the recent progress of outfitting 1,000 classrooms, Hawaii’s schools still lag behind other similarly sized districts in terms of providing cool environments for learning. A public records request made by revealed that while most of the 50 largest districts in the country equip all their schools with air conditioning units, 11 districts still lack sufficient units for many of their classrooms.
Teachers have expressed difficulties in retaining students’ focus and managing behavior when classrooms become excessively hot. Some schools without air conditioning have resorted to dismissing students early or canceling classes during high temperatures. Moreover, research conducted by Harvard indicates that test scores can decline when students are exposed to extreme heat.
"The study shows that taking an exam on a 90-degree day, compared to a 72-degree day, leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a quarter of the disparity in achievement between Black and White students," the study states.
Nevertheless, as climate change escalates temperatures, districts continue to prioritize investment in air conditioning. For instance, New York City spends millions of dollars to cool its classrooms, yet approximately 11,000 rooms still lack air conditioning units. By 2022, the district plans to invest $29 million to ensure air conditioning becomes a ubiquitous feature in all schools.