I have been in this conversation a hundred times.
“Where do you teach?”
“Campbell High School.”
“Oh, how is that?”
My usual answer: “It’s hot.”
Another school year revives the narrative about our lack of air conditioning. My school in the heart of Ewa Beach has a long reputation for being overheated. Civil Beat wrote a series on the problem in 2013. Many teachers and students have made statements about it to numerous news sources.
You could even argue the heat was the political launching pad for Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee, who led teachers and students in protest efforts to get Campbell cooled off.
At the beginning of the school year, our administration updated us on the heat situation, for which we are finally supposed to receive some relief. Last session, the Legislature passed a bill to fund heat abatement at our schools. Campbell is near the top of the list.
Currently, construction crews are on campus installing new electrical wiring and upgrading our energy capacity. Later, they will continue with other abatement methods like re-coating building roofs with white silicone. Photovoltaic panels will also be installed to power air condition units.
I was taking a second to read an email from a colleague when the screen went fuzzy. I raised my head and felt the world spin.
All of this may be for naught, as the state still does not have reasonable bids on all of the actual air conditioner units. There is also a caveat in the law that says improvements cannot increase electricity costs.
I usually write off how hot it is, having spent a majority of my life living on the leeward side of Oahu before relocating over to the windward side. I was proud of my heat-resistance.
Until I nearly passed out in the middle of class.
It was right after lunch and I was just getting my second class of the day into a debate. As the students began blasting each other with their rhetorical salvos, I sat back in a student desk. The best classes do not need much teacher input, just a little guiding here and there, and this class was beginning to soar.
My smart watch vibrated an alert and I was taking a second to read an email from a colleague when the screen went fuzzy. I raised my head and felt the world spin. I had experienced this before, at summer camp when I was 16, moments before I collapsed in the dinner line from dehydration.
I gently disengaged myself from my students, encouraging them to continue as I grabbed my water bottle from my desk. It was nearly full. As I sipped slowly, I realized I had not brought the bottle with me to a meeting during first period, nor had I stopped for hydration while I taught second period. It probably did not help that I had a salty chicken sandwich for lunch and was enjoying a conversation too much to bother chugging down some water.
What most people may consider a small mistake — forgetting to drink some water — could have resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
For the rest of class, I remained in the back of the room, allowing my head to clear. I suddenly became far more empathetic to my afternoon students and their dazed looks or putting their heads on the desk.
Year after year, they are assured relief is coming, but I can remember news stories about heat abatement when I was in high school, more than 10 years ago.
Some people take matters into their own hands, bringing portable fans for themselves or donating fans to the classroom. Last year, a group of students from various schools developed a plan to cool a portable classroom.
But most just sit and endure as best as they can. They know the process takes time. When I brought up the electrical upgrades for this year, and predicted we might have air conditioning by January, a student scoffed and said, “Maybe they’ll have it ready for the kids who come in after we graduate.”
What else can they expect? They have already endured 80-degree classrooms for nine years.
Our local leaders are currently priding themselves for hosting the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress. Perhaps they can bring the delegates to our schools to demonstrate how global warming is directly affecting the most vulnerable population — our children.
Or at least buy me a bigger water bottle.