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Schools get creative as heat wave washes over final week of classes

“It has been a very difficult few days,” says the New Frontiers School Board director general, Mike Helm, who admits the last week of school was challenging for school staff and their students. “They managed it, but at the same time, it was not easy,” he insists, of the conditions inside Valley schools and centres as a heat wave propelled daytime temperatures into the mid-thirties.

Helm says the school board issued an advisory to staff early in the week, implementing protocols that pertain to oppressive or extreme heat conditions based on Environment Canada recommendations. The soaring temperatures, high humidity, and little respite overnight meant staff and students would be walking into overheated buildings and then working in such an environment throughout the day.

“We put these into place so that schools and centres could mobilize in terms of looking at their cool or green zones, and then have students and staff filter through these while taking on other types of activities, as well to break up the day,” he explains, noting each school has mapped out pre-defined green, yellow, and red zones depending on air flow and ventilation. Elementary teachers were also tasked with ensuring students stayed well hydrated.

 

Students at Heritage Elementary in Huntingdon cooled off on June 20 with a series of carnival and water based activities including a foam cannon and a fire hose dangling from the Huntingdon Fire Departments ladder truck to celebrate the end of the school year Students at schools across the Valley shared similar experiences throughout the week as staff and parent organizations made sure kids stayed refreshed during the heat wave PHOTO Chantal Dupuis

 

The timing of the heat wave meant the impacts at the high school level were slightly less significant. Regular classes were finished, and most of the exams at Chateauguay Valley Regional had already been written. CVR also benefits from a ventilation system that keeps air flowing through the building, which helped to somewhat lower the temperature.

Adult and vocational centres were also monitoring conditions, especially in certain environments such as mechanic or welding shops and greenhouses, and teachers were encouraged to pivot to classrooms.

Helm confirms that no additional funding kicks in when schools overheat. Some administrators used discretionary funds to purchase additional fans for classrooms, but simply installing air conditioning units in each classroom is not a valid option. He says the Education Ministry is also not showing any signs it is prepared to fund the installation of cooling systems in public schools. They are, however, prioritizing this type of capacity in new builds, renovations, and expansion projects.

Looking forward to the fall, Helm says the board is considering installing ceiling fans in some rooms and is working with the material resources department to strategically help schools manage extreme heat.

Despite the heat wave, Helm says the school year has ended on a positive note. “I think our schools have done an exceptional job in terms of trying to close some of the gaps that we have had this year with the negotiations, the lost days, and in terms of our catch-up plan,” he explains. Government funding to provide catch-up initiatives to students will continue into next year, and he confirms this funding will also be used to offset costs for students needing to attend summer school.

 

Staff students parents and a large blue dinosaur waved goodbye to Ormstown Elementary students as the buses drove off at the start of summer vacation on June 21 PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois

 

He says this year’s graduating classes have proven their resilience. After being forced to isolate for part of their Grade 7 year, they worked through the pandemic, and are the first graduating class since 2019 to write standard ministerial exams.

Having attended several graduation ceremonies, Helm says it has been wonderful to see so many students achieve these milestones. “I think that with these students, our community is in excellent hands as they take on their next challenges.”

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