Waterloo Board Shade Policy Will Keep Schoolyards Cool

Board shade policy will keep schoolyards cool   January 26, 2012 21:01:00
 During these gloomy January days, it’s difficult to imagine the sun beating down on an uncomfortably hot schoolyard. But the time will come. And when it does, children in public schools will be a little better protected than they were before.

That’s because, in between the passionate debates about what time school should start and who should provide child care in schools, board trustees have quietly done something that’s just plain good sense. They passed a policy encouraging shade in schoolyards.

If you’ve been around one of those yards recently, you will notice that some have shaded areas (often thanks to parent volunteers who raised funds and watered saplings) and some don’t. And those yards that are just bare turf and asphalt are hostile environments for children.

Children have thinner, more sensitive skin than adults. A sunburn is more serious for them than it is for adults. An unshaded schoolyard can become so hot — some surfaces get to 92 degrees C — that students become miserable, stressed, and can hardly move. If that ground is shaded, the temperature is dramatically lowered and damage is also limited from harmful ultraviolet rays.

School board chair Catherine Fife is justifiably proud of the board’s policy, one of the first of its kind in the province. “A schoolyard is an extension of the classroom,” she said. You can’t stand in the classroom and teach children about the benefits of biodiversity, for example, while sending them out into a barren yard.

This policy “recognizes the importance of the provision of shade” in schools and encourages school councils to “develop school based greening solutions to address ongoing sun safety behaviours and shading initiatives.”

By having that as a policy, Fife said, it places the issue on the agenda. It’s an acknowledgement that resources are needed, and a message to the community that “this is a priority for us,” she said.

“I’m thrilled,” said Carol Moogk-Soulis, a Waterloo researcher who has spent many years measuring the temperature of Ontario schoolyards using satellite imagery. She found that some school grounds, with their asphalt parking lots, mowed grass, metal fences, and tar-and-chip roofs, can get so hot, they heat up the surrounding neighbourhood for up to 150 metres.

Moogk-Soulis said she will be watching the policy with interest as it unfolds.

What will be most interesting is the line in the report to trustees that says there are “no financial implications” in passing the policy.

In other words, there’s no extra money, right now, to help move the policy along and create more shade.

Trustee Harold Paisley, who chaired the committee that came up with the policy, said the board already has a limited budget for planting trees and shrubs. Almost all the school board’s income comes from the Ontario government, which is talking restraint. Much will depend on the generosity of corporate donations and the ingenuity of shade advocates and school councils.

That said, this move recognizes that the well-being of children goes hand in hand with their learning. It is a healthy beginning and deserves our support.