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Students try to keep their cool

In aging, sweltering buildings, teachers urge children to be still and calm

Sara Lieb and classmates at the Beethoven School in West Roxbury took a cooling break Monday as schools throughout the state wrestled with the heat.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Sara Lieb and classmates at the Beethoven School in West Roxbury took a cooling break Monday as schools throughout the state wrestled with the heat.

Let Nicolas L’Huillier tell it: Baby, it’s hot inside.

How hot?

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“H-a-a-a-a-t,’’ the gap-toothed L’Huillier, a Beethoven Elementary School second-grader, said as he tilted his head upwards and breathed out the word as though it were a ball of flames.

With his short hair sticking to his head, L’Huillier — who said he is 7¾ years old — was voicing a collective discomfort felt by area students who are wrapping up the long academic year in aging, sweltering school buildings this late in June, a time when they would normally be off.

Blame a massive winter snowstorm and the ravages of Hurricane Sandy for the longer school year. And with buildings closed up over a scorching weekend, many students and teachers were left feeling the heat when they returned to school Monday.

“I don’t know how the kids made it today; I’m burning up,” said Tamara Blake-Canty, principal of Russell Elementary School.

In Boston, where the academic year is wrapping up this week, roughly 30, or 1 in 5, of the district’s 127 schools have air conditioning, and only buildings erected after the 1970s have central air, school officials said. To keep their charges cool, school officials have resorted to all sorts of schemes. Some schools had custodians come in on Sunday to put down the window shades, and teachers held classes with the lights off. In one school, gallon jugs of water were stationed in the hallways with little cups for children to use, and parents donated fans to use in the auditorium.

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In Brookline, where a heat alert is in effect until Wednesday, recess teacher Marianne Moore used a mist spray with a hose to spritz students at Edward Devotion School, a K-8 facility.

“I try to make sure they don’t play too hard, and they play in the shade,’’ Moore said. “And, of course, they have to stay hydrated.”

Dedham High School sent students home early, in the morning. It was a short day anyway, with students coming in for one exam and a make-up test. They were gone by about 9:30, said Ron McCarthy, the principal.

In Roxbury, Geraldine Aziz turned on an industrial-sized fan full blast in her first-grade classroom at Higginson-Lewis K-8 School, which, at 103 years old, has no air conditioning. Most of the five windows in her classroom do not open and only three have shades.

“It’s really rough; the children are constantly complaining,” she said.

The heat seemed to take a toll on students at Russell Elementary as they filed out of school sweaty, sluggish, and clinging to water bottles.

“They aren’t coming out looking energized, are they?” said Rocky Caban, as he waited for his daughter, Hailey, with other parents who were clumped under trees for shade.

For 4-year-old Max Murphy, the day was not half as bad. There were plenty of fans and popsicles for the kindergartners at Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester. His sister, Lilly, 6, and her classmates made the most of the day by crafting paper fans while trying to stay still, though it was not always easy. “At recess our teachers told us to get in the shade and calm down, because the more you run the hotter you get,’’ she added.

For at least one Clap fourth-grader, the heat was a huge distraction. Sophia Bartlett, 9, has to hike to class on the top floor of the building, where it is warmer. It was so hot, she had a tough time concentrating.

“I can’t do work as fast as I could when it’s hot,” she said.

Back in West Roxbury, where the long, hot school day was nearing a close, not a seat was empty in the computer lab, the only air-conditioned room at Beethoven Elementary School. Students with headphones sat glued to their stations playing computer games as teacher Lisa Garlington, who had an apple on her desk, seemed to savor the silence.

The scene was different in Michele Glynne’s second-grade class, where everyone was damp and sweating. After gym, students sat at their desks sucking on orange and cherry-
flavored popsicles that a parent brought in. Though the shades were pulled down and the windows open, it was sizzling.

Beads of sweat dotted the face of 7-year-old Sara Lieb. It’s really hot, she emphasized. But she has felt much worse, like 110 degrees, while vacationing in Delaware, she said.

In a corner, a pink-cheeked Emmett Hughes, 8, was taking his last bites of an ice pop. Rather than making a fuss about things, he said, he took the day in stride.

“I really didn’t do anything,’’ he said, shrugging. “I just have to live with it.”

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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