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Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

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Heat waves rock Central, classes impacted by historic heat

Hallways with wet floors. Classrooms measured at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Locker room doors propped open by fans blowing at their highest setting. Gym classes indoors in August. Nearly everywhere you looked during the week of Aug. 21, you could see the impact heat had on Naperville Central.

Temperatures that week reached as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, Aug. 24, and the heat found a way to impact Central’s school day nearly every day of the week.

It began on Monday, with gym classes forced to stay in due to unsafe temperatures outside. 

“In the morning we were going out, and about midway through the day, we started getting readings that were pushing into that danger area and then we shut it down,” said Neil Duncan, PE, Health and Drivers Ed department chair. “The next day we actually went to a little bit better of a system: [Mark] Florence [Central’s Athletic Trainer and a PE teacher] has a specific tool that measures the Wet Bulb Global Temperature. He started using that as a more effective tool for measuring the effect the weather had on people.”

According to the National Weather Service, Wet Bulb Global Temperature is a measurement of the heat stress a human body experiences based on factors including temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. 

Despite relocating due to the heat, Duncan said learning in his department was unaffected

“Our vehicle for teaching and learning is activity,” Duncan said. “If we’re inside, we’re just shifting kind of what that activity is. Ultimately, we still could teach and still have an academic class. The part that we are aware of is that if it’s 100 outside, it’s still in the high 80s in the gyms, and we get that. So do we modify our activity level in that situation as a teacher? Yeah.”

Central’s gym can reach such temperatures because it – like most of Central’s PE department facilities – doesn’t have air conditioning. 

“[The locker room] was very hot and the smell was really, really bad,” sophomore Rohan Jain said. “As you can imagine, if there’s a lot of people changing and sweating, and there’s no air conditioning and no airflow within the locker room, then it’s gonna smell bad. Eventually, they propped the locker room doors open and had two giant fans blasting air inside, but it didn’t really help the next day.”

Despite the heat in the locker rooms, Duncan said using them was still necessary. 

“For us, hygiene wise, it was better that we were able to use the locker rooms and have people change because they were probably sweating more, and that’s a good thing to have them not be in those wet clothes for the rest of the day,” Duncan said.

Of course, the effects of the heat were not confined to the PE department.

“During the day on Wednesday, teachers had been complaining that it was getting hot beyond  normal,” said David Ashton, social studies department chair. “So at the end of the day, teachers had made some slight adjustments. They were out in the hallway, things like that. But what was clear was the AC there wasn’t functioning or it was bringing in hot air from outside and not able to keep up once it did that.”

Carrie McFadden, Assistant Principal for Operations, said that the heat felt in these rooms was due to a variety of factors, including construction that has seen the outer layer of bricks completely removed from Central’s east-facing wall.

“We have to bring in a certain amount of outside air into the building constantly,” McFadden said. “Our normal setting is somewhere around 15 or 20%. It was just really hot that day, so we’re bringing in more and more hot air. And there aren’t bricks outside, which does remove a barrier to some more heat that was coming into the building.”

What started as uncomfortable heat quickly became unbearable by the time Central faculty hosted Open House that Wednesday night.

“One room I was in during Open House was dramatic in its warmth, I mean it must have been 90 degrees in there,” Ashton said. “And the humidity was abusive, you know, probably above 75%. One other thing that we noticed was that condensation was forming in the floor of the hallway, so you could see where the dust had been on the floor and then it was collecting moisture. It actually got slick out in the hallway.”

Ashton brought concerns about the heat to Central’s administration, who made the decision to relocate classes most impacted by the conditions to the auditorium the next day.

“We worked with department chairs to determine which rooms [were] affected, went to make sure the auditorium was cool and available and just made a decision to move those classes for the day,” Principal Jackie Thornton said.

Central’s administration also decided to cancel homeroom for the next day, as the entire freshman class was scheduled to be in the main gym during that period.

Some teachers requested to stay in their rooms during early parts of the day when it was cooler or relocated to spaces other than the auditorium, Ashton said, although most moved to the auditorium by the end of the day.

“As kids came in, teachers grabbed them and pulled them into their section, and then they were able to be creative about pivoting their lessons to work in that unusual space,” Ashton said. “I know one or two classes were using the stage for circle conversations and I think the auditorium lobby got used for a few activities as well. That was organic. It wasn’t like, ‘Okay, this class is gonna sit here and this class is gonna sit here,’ teachers [came up with their own plans], and kids kind of fell in line.”

Chemistry teacher Jackie Barker was one teacher who relocated to the auditorium.

“ I felt like I went in expecting the worst,” Barker said. “So I didn’t feel like it was as bad as what I was expecting. I liked that we were able to sit with our class so I could kind of check in on my class. I think the transition for it went as well as it could have gone for having to be relocated.”

After the school day ended Thursday, the heat was mostly gone, but it wouldn’t soon be forgotten. 

The 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature reached on Aug. 24 was 18.3 degrees hotter than the average temperature on Aug. 24 in Chicago since 1990, according to the National Weather Service. 

Athletic Trainer Mark Florence recorded a Wet Bulb Temperature of 93.8 degrees Fahrenheit during the heatwave. A 2022 Penn State study found that prolonged exposure to Wet Bulb temperatures above 87 degrees Fahrenheit can be deadly for even young, healthy individuals

A second heatwave hit Central in early September, with a high temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive days from Sept. 3 to 5. Central only had school on Sept. 5, and gym classes stayed in for the day.

“ I’ve been doing this for 27 years,” Florence said. “We’ve usually seen extreme heat in spots [before the school year starts]. We’re starting to see that slide and get deeper into fall. And where we have this batch now in August, this little bit of September, you’re seeing these little spurts of heat waves that you usually don’t see.”

Heat waves have previously never had the chance to disrupt classes, either.

“I don’t remember [it ever] being that hot out during the school year,” McFadden said. “I don’t remember a time when that many classrooms ever went to the auditorium [regardless of the reason].”

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About the Contributor
Jake Pfeiffer
Jake Pfeiffer, Editor-in-Chief
Jake Pfeiffer is a senior, entering his third year on the Central Times staff, this time as Editor-in-Chief. Jake joined CT as a sophomore because he wanted to write news, but since then he has grown to love just about every element of journalism. While it is rare to see Jake anywhere other than the CT office, occasionally you can find him captaining Central’s debate team, watching baseball, listening to a seemingly endless amount of podcasts or drowning in college applications.
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