In December, a study revealed some of the most heat-vulnerable schools in the Sydney Basin as part of a project to cool school playgrounds.
According to the study, by environmental organisation Greening Australia and Western Sydney University, just 18% of school outdoor areas were covered by shade, with 14.6% covered by trees and 3.1% covered by manmade structures like shade sails. The lowest coverage recorded was just 2.4%.
The 100 schools selected for the study consisted of 65 public schools, 19 Catholic schools and 16 independent schools spread across 60 suburbs in Greater Western Sydney.
The suburbs with the highest number of ‘Hot Schools’ were Liverpool, Merrylands and Granville with seven, six and five schools respectively in each suburb. The findings from the study will be combined with information from the Department of Education to help select priority schools for tree planting.
Through Greening Australia’s ‘Cooling the Schools’ program, the organisation hopes to get students involved in planting activities and also have educational opportunities linked with the curriculum to learn about the environment, climate and urban heat.
Greening Australia’s Science and Planning Manager for the Nature in Cities program, Michael Vyse, said the organisation is currently working with schools across Western Sydney to help students learn and connect with nature, increasing their understanding of how planting trees can help cool their local neighbourhood whilst also creating habitat for native animals.
“Numerous studies have shown that exposure to and interaction with nature increases children’s attention spans, creative thought processes, problem solving skills, self-discipline and self-regulation,” Vyse, told The Educator.
“The aim of the Cooling the Schools program in 2021 is to empower students, who are increasingly anxious about the future prospects of a changing climate, to be actively engaged in the environment around them”.
Vyse said the organisation is focused on providing teachers with the expertise and insight of Greening Australia field staff both within and outside of the classroom.
“We believe this will help facilitate new conversations on the changing climate, enhancing students’ overall understanding on measures required to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures, and the important role they play in the environment’s future,” he said.
“Beyond 2021, we are planning to roll this program out nationally so all Australian kids can help cool their schools and learn more about the important role nature plays in cooling our cities”.
Vyse said that as school playgrounds become unbearably hot in parts of Sydney over summer, children are often limited to indoor play losing out on the benefits of engaging with nature.
“For example, research shows that synthetic grass can reach extreme temperatures higher than 70 Degrees Celsius if left uncovered causing a significant health risk to children whilst deferring them from playing and being active,” he said.
“By creating greener spaces with increased shade cover in schools, this program allows students to have more access to nature, whilst also educating them about climate change and empowering them to feel like they are making a difference”.
As part of the Cooling the Schools program, Greening Australia provides curricular materials to help educate children on the urban heat island effect and the vital role trees play in absorbing carbon and providing shade.
Vyse said this is particularly relevant for the students of Western Sydney, with the region dominated by structures and limited greenery.
“We’ve seen great engagement from schools and kids taking part in the program to date, and have designed the program with lasting educational impact in mind”.