What August means to me

It’s August again. Yes, already.

As a former student, teacher, and parent, August has for decades meant the start of school to me. I was kind of startled when a news item about LeBron James’s new I Promise School in Akron, OH mentioned James had come to speak there for the first day of school, in late July. Did it really start that early?

A new experiment in education begins: I Promise School in Akron, OH, with special funding from LeBron James. (Photo courtesy of Akron Public Schools)

Well, yes and no. Akron schools (including I Promise, which is a public elementary school) don’t start regular classes for real till August 4. Still, that’s earlier than they traditionally have begun where I live.

For most of my life, there’s been a good, practical reason why school didn’t open in mid-summer. Where I grew up in Missouri, and where I spent my teaching career(s), it was usually hot as blazes in August, and for most of that time the public schools were NOT air-conditioned (believe it or not, SOME STILL AREN’T!). As far back as I can remember, the administrative offices had AC, but normally not the classrooms.

Priorities. After all, where was the most important work being done? Sometimes that old Paradigm of Control becomes a matter of prioritizing who has to sweat, and who doesn’t. Here’s where we see a barometer for the true level of concern over optimizing student learning conditions!

This illustration by Ellen van Engelen perfectly sums up my dominant impression of starting school in August.

Right up there with not being hungrynot being in physical pain, being able to see and hear, and not living in terror, it really helps learning outcomes if you’re not so hot you can’t breathe or think. Trust me. I know this.

My experiences with starting school in August inevitably have led me to associate the month with being uncomfortably hot. Ask me what August means to me? Straight from the gut, the answer comes back: for me, August means heat exhaustion. As the effects of climate change grow more profound, this will only get more important.

Are your local public schools air-conditioned? If so, the children and teachers of your area should thank you and all the other taxpayers who made it possible, as well as the wise school leaders who made it a priority. If not, there’s something desperately wrong with the local funding priorities!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Akron Public Schools website, Akron, OH, for the photo from the I Promise School, newly opened for the 2018-2019 school year. I also deeply appreciate the artistry of Ellen van Engelen, and her extremely apt illustration for Sara Mosle’s New York Times op-ed piece, “Schools are not Cool.” You captured it, Ellen!