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The South is adapting to help keep kids safe as summer heat intensifies


Extreme heat is changing what it means to be a kid in the summer. Playing outside can be increasingly dangerous as climate change fuels longer and more intense heat waves. Drew Hawkins of the Gulf States Newsroom reports on how some people in the South are adapting to help keep kids safe this summer.

DREW HAWKINS, BYLINE: Jasmine Davis is a mom of four living in central Alabama. She and other members of a group called Black Homeschoolers of Birmingham have gathered at a local park to get the kids together, share resources and just connect.

JASMINE DAVIS: We have a saying that we say. This isn't the same sun that it used to be, you know?

HAWKINS: Summer has always been hot in the South. But she says she's had to come up with a new summer schedule.

DAVIS: Before, it was just, oh, you just deal with the heat. It's fine. It's just a part of life. But now it's - you're really having to think and strategize about, you know, how you're going to live with the heat, even for us Southerners.

HAWKINS: Davis home schools her kids and does her best to juggle their sports and activities, like her 13-year-old, Peyton. Peyton loves basketball. And recently, he was shooting hoops in his driveway in the middle of the day. And then something felt wrong.

PEYTON: I had to go inside for a little bit because, like, I start feeling nauseous and don't - I felt sweaty. I was like - I felt like I was going to pass out.

HAWKINS: His mom has since limited his basketball time to early in the morning and later in the evening, when it's not too hot out, which Peyton doesn't love.

PEYTON: Get mad kind of because, like, I have to just keep going in and out and in and out. So, like, I don't like that.

HAWKINS: Wish you could stay out longer.


HAWKINS: Despite his frustrations, Peyton's mom may be making the right call. Heat affects kids differently.

ARI BERNSTEIN: Children aren't built exactly like adults, so they may not have the same symptoms.

HAWKINS: That's Dr. Ari Bernstein, director at the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC.

BERNSTEIN: The symptoms can be headaches. It can feel a little bit sick to their stomach. A lot of sweating or no sweating at all can be a sign.

HAWKINS: And Bernstein says that while it's important to make sure kids are safe in the heat, it's also important to let them be kids. The key is to make sure adults are paying attention to those extreme heat days. Like at Camp Istrouma, a sleep away summer camp nestled in the piney woods just outside Greenwell Springs in southern Louisiana. It's late morning, and Camp Director Cody Hanken guides a group of 10-year-olds trying to paddle a canoe around a lake. The key word here is trying.

CODY HANKEN: Paddle - there you go. Yeah. Forward to back. You two, forward to back.

HAWKINS: The sun is bright and shining. Light sparkles off the surface of the water. And it's already warm. In an hour or so, it'll be in the 90s. Hanken says the heat just seems to be coming sooner every year.

HANKEN: Normally, it was like August. It would be really hot, and we kind of prepared for it. But now it's starting as early as May.

HAWKINS: Hanken doesn't have to consult a chart or a report to know this. Once upon a time, he was a camper here.

HANKEN: As a kid, I don't really remember the heat being that bad. A lot of our buildings didn't even have air conditioning back then.

HAWKINS: Last year broke records. Louisiana hit its highest heat index and had 17 days that were over 100 degrees. Hanken says a few counselors passed out.

Do you remember people falling out whenever you were a kid?

HANKEN: Never. Never. We would be out here for hours and, I mean, playing in the sun, baseball fields going. Nobody ever really had an issue with it.

HAWKINS: Hanken says they've had to make changes because of the heat, like cycling camp activities, moving groups indoors into the AC for arts and crafts and even dance parties.

HANKEN: You got the Just Dance going on on this side. You got your Nine Square going on over here with...

HAWKINS: Hanken says they're also raising money for a new, bigger rec building, preparing for a future where they'll need more room for activities when it's too hot to be outside - adapting to extreme heat to keep kids safe but still allow them to have fun. For NPR News, I'm Drew Hawkins in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Drew Hawkins
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