McHenry County schools try to keep students cool during heat wave

Liam Croft, 3, plays with toys by a stream of water at the splash pad Monday at Sunset Park Sports Complex in Lake in the Hills.
Liam Croft, 3, plays with toys by a stream of water at the splash pad Monday at Sunset Park Sports Complex in Lake in the Hills.

As temperatures reach the hottest levels this summer, McHenry County schools are scrambling to cool off students in buildings that largely are not air conditioned.

Tuesday’s high is expected to reach into the mid-90s, with the heat index exceeding 100 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

School administrators are rotating students and teachers into air-conditioned rooms, limiting outdoor activities and bringing out fans to keep temperatures down and  students focused during the first month of school.

“[The heat] takes a toll not only on the students, but on the teachers, too,” said Vic Wight, principal of Prairie Grove Elementary and Prairie Grove Junior High. “It has an effect on their energy level.”

At the connected building, Prairie Grove Junior High has air conditioning, but in most rooms the elementary school does not. Wight said the administration has plans in place to get the younger students into cooler rooms, including a “Buddy Reading” system where the elementary students walk over to the junior high and read with the older students.

Wight also sent elementary teachers a schedule of when junior high classrooms are free, allowing teachers to schedule time to move their class to an air-conditioned room.

At District 200 in Woodstock, Greenwood Elementary and Northwood Middle School are almost entirely without air conditioning. Greenwood has one air-conditioned classroom and Northwood has two, and students are encouraged to visit those rooms throughout the day if they feel overheated, Director of Community Services Carol Smith said.

Students are given plenty of water breaks, lights in classrooms are turned off, and parents are encouraged to send water bottles with their children, Smith said.

Smith added that at Woodstock High School and Dean Street Elementary, classes are being moved from the upper floors down to cooler ground floors. District administrators also are meeting with junior high and high school principals about limiting afternoon athletic practices or moving them to indoor facilities.

“We’re making other arrangements so our students are safe,” she said.

Marengo District 165 Superintendent Lea Damisch said some of the buildings in the district were built in the 1920s and rely mostly on cross-ventilation to keep classrooms cool. But this isn’t the first time weather has reached the 90s during the school year, and the district is prepared for the heat wave, she said.

“We’ve had hot days before. We’re used to hot days,” Damisch said. “We’ll watch for signs if kids are flushed. And we’ll be sure to give plenty of water breaks.”

Heat-related tips, signs

With temperatures expected to remain high this week, the McHenry County Department of Health reminds residents to take preventive actions during hot weather to avoid heat-related illness.

Signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses:

• Dehydration: Occurs when more water leaves the body than is put in. Stay well hydrated throughout the day and drink extra fluids when exercising or outdoors on hot days.

• Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include headaches, weak pulse, rapid pulse, excessive sweating, dizziness and in some instances fainting, clammy skin, chills, cold, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps or very fast or very shallow breathing. Take action immediately to cool down. If possible, immerse yourself in cool water.

• Heatstroke: Victims have warm skin that is dry to the touch because they’ve sweated out all their extra water, leaving the body’s natural cooling system without a key cool-down mechanism. High fever, severe headaches, nausea, vomiting and a strong, rapid pulse all accompany heatstroke. Victims may become confused and can lose consciousness. Cool the victim; seek medical assistance.

Some tips to stay cool:

• Wear lightweight clothing that has plenty of ventilation (the fabric should “breathe”). Stay well hydrated. Be sure to provide pets with water and shade when outside as well.

• Exercise or schedule other strenuous activities when the heat and humidity are lowest, in the early morning and late evening.

• Rest in cool, shady places. If you’re hot, cool down – get indoors, drink liquids, enjoy the air conditioning or take a cold shower.

• Watch out for those at greatest risk – very young children, people with health conditions such as the elderly, as well as pets. Young children should never be left in cars. Certain medications may put you at greater risk of heat-related illnesses so be aware of how medications interact with the heat.

For information, visit www.mcdh.info.

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