Yasmine Azzouz looks at the thermometer she had installed in her classroom. “28°C, if I’ve just ventilated and the students aren’t there, it’s too much”, cut the teacher from CM1-CM2. On this Thursday, June 16, Honoré de Balzac primary school, a priority educational institution with 320 pupils in Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine), was hit by an exceptionally early and intense heat wave, like much of the country. “When it’s this hot they are not concentrated at all. I changed the program to work manually, but even that is complicated”she testifies.
However, the teacher spares no effort to relieve her students: she has installed her small personal fan and bought misters to lower the temperature. In his class, the blinds work, but the upper part of the windows is not covered. Children’s drawings on cardboard thus function as hatches. It’s even worse in the courtyard, where the franceinfo thermometer, in a few minutes of exposure, reads a staggering 39.3°C. “There is very little shade and it is in full sunnotes Yasmine Azzouz. If they come up again, they’re dead.”†
French schools are dealing with heat waves the way our society faces global warming: they are not designed to withstand them and they are not ready for it. By injecting large doses of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to move, build, feed or manufacture objects, man did not invent heat waves, but made them more intense and earlier. They are no longer reserved for the summer months when schools are closed. “In recent years we have had heat waves during class, in May, June, September…”notes Eric Pateyron, director of the Honoré de Balzac school since 1998.
Faced with this situation, we have to adapt. Before our eyes, the director tells a group of children chasing a ball: “Go find some shade.” “I have a cap”one of the students tries, without success. “With the heat it does, it’s not enough”, the director replies. On the ground floor, another classroom reads in the cool of a north-facing room and protected by the trees of the adjacent street. “We used to not place too many students there, we thought it was too cold and dark. Now it’s an advantage”the director notes. Planters and trees have been placed in the courtyard in recent years to provide some shade.
To prepare for the coming climate, we will need to go a little further than these adjustments. Since the beginning of the industrial age, the planet has warmed 1.1°C. The commitments made by the States in the context of the Paris Agreement lead us for the time being to a world at +2.7°C. Like other cities, Nanterre has decided to make its schools’ courses greener, with an envelope of EUR 750,000 by 2026. In their latest report (PDF link in English)IPCC scientists emphasize the many benefits of water and trees in cities: CO2 storage, cooling the temperature, improving air quality and the mental and physical health of the inhabitants.
At the Honoré de Balzac school, work is planned for this summer. More than 30% of the courtyard area will be cut down to install trees and grass. A logical continuation of this establishment that already has a small botanical garden, which is used for educational activities. “Vegetation is not an option for us, it is essential”Eric Pateyron insists and draws the contours of the future forest area with his hand.
Just push the door next to it to understand the interest of the approach. The Les Bizis leisure center, adjacent to the school, has a 3,600 m² garden since 2020. There is an orchard, groves, an uncut meadow, a vegetable garden and all kinds of plants, thanks to the generosity of a botanical shop that graciously donates its unsold products. “There could have been a building block instead”, recalls Robert Ridel, the neighborhood coordinator. Indeed, the city of Nanterre, a neighbor of Paris, whets the appetite for real estate.
In the grass it is 30°C, nine colder than in the yard. “The trees hide us from the heat”Haroun, 9 years old, quickly summarizes between two answers to the attendant’s specific questions about the plants that surround them. “It’s a great opportunity to have this space”, welcomes Morgane De Bernardi, deputy director of the center. She was in office for a few months and left a school with no trees for this garden. “It is much nicer to work here”she admits.
In addition to freshness, the garden has other virtues for children, according to Hyacinthe Jauniau, the host. “I see it when they arrive, they are calmershe notes. They look at the plants, the insects and they learn much better.” The deputy mayor in charge of educational action, Jean-Pierre Bellier, has a formula to sum it up: “Weather climate approach has an impact on school climate”† In her class, Yasmine Azzouz waits impatiently for the end of work: “With all this surface area of open ground, it’s going to be great”† The teacher shows us on the wall a model of the ideal courtyard that her students have devised. A rectangle of grass takes up much of the space.