KEALAKEKUA — Without air conditioners or fans, classrooms on the Big Island can become unbearable for the students and teachers that are packed together in the heat.
At Konawaena High School, one student is ready to find a solution to the school’s lack of air flow.
Ro‘onui Satta-Ellis, a Konawaena freshman, is holding the Kool Konawaena Fan Drive at the school from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday to collect new or gently used fans for the school’s overheated classrooms. Money donations will also be accepted.
“I just thought I’d like to give back to the community,” Satta-Ellis said. “I saw that kids always had sweat dripping down their faces and they couldn’t concentrate on their school work.”
Satta-Ellis is following in the footsteps of his brother, Trajan, who held a fan drive at the school in 2017. The drive resulted in the collection of a dozen fans and $100.
The students hope to exceed those numbers this time around, with a goal of $200 and 25 fans.
With more than 800 Wildcats at the school, Satta-Ellis said the increase is needed.
He said one building, the agriculture building, doesn’t have any fans in the classrooms at all.
“For me, when I’m like not as warm, I can do more work,” Satta-Ellis said. “Like in the library, it’s cooler inside there, so I notice I can work better there. And when I’m up by the ag building, I can’t really work because there’s no fans and there’s no breezes right now.”
Satta-Ellis’ friends and classmates feel the need for fans, too.
Fellow freshmen Ariana Ramos and Faith Molina said the worst part of not having air circulating through the classrooms is the smell from their sweating classmates.
“I have art at the end of the day, and it’s the worst in there,” Konawaena junior Elianna Filivaa said. “It would be a lot nicer if there was air.”
Satta-Ellis’ mother, Molly Satta-Ellis, is a social studies teacher at Konawaena. She said she sees the way the heat interferes with her students’ school work.
“It definitely affects their ability to concentrate on their learning environment and their focus,” Molly Satta-Ellis said. “Especially the freshmen, because they have P.E. So when they come into the class they’re literally dripping sweat and you can just feel the body heat and you can see them just worrying about trying to work while being that sweaty.”
She said she is always looking for ways to make her classroom cooler.
“They’re starting to change all the lights in the state buildings to LED and the state said that it should be cooler, but we really don’t feel it,” Molly Satta-Ellis said. “That’s why I only have one set on. It feels cooler to have less light. Even though we’re up mauka as well, we still are dripping sweat.”
According to the Hawaii State Teachers Association, converting to LED light bulbs can also reduce energy use in classrooms by 62%, freeing up electrical capacity that can be used to run AC units.
Last month, the state Department of Education (DOE) announced the Schools Directed AC (SDAC) program, which allows school leaders to request an official electrical assessment from the DOE’s Office of Facilities and Operation to determine if there is enough electrical capacity to install AC window units in their classrooms.
The Schools Directed AC program takes time, however, and Ro’onui Satta-Ellis is ready for a change now.
“It gets hot around here in these classrooms, even though it’s going into fall and summer is over,” Satta-Ellis said. “I want to see a change. I want to see them be able to work without fanning their shirt or wiping their sweat off.”