Mableton school tackles climate education with reflective playground

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Company donates reflective surface to help reduce heat on private school campus.

For the past two months, students at the SAE School in Mableton have been conducting an experiment.

Each day, they measured the surface temperature of the school’s blacktop parking lot and compared it to a test parking spot that had been painted with a special reflective coating. They found that the black asphalt was up to 12 degrees hotter than the section that had been coated.

“It’s been really cool to find out, like, the different temperatures you see different days,” said 13-year-old Paris Howard, an 8th grader at SAE. “It’s definitely made me think more in depth of how our climate is changing.”

On Thursday, Howard and her classmates watched as the private school’s basketball court and playground were painted in the same reflective coating in bright colors according to a design chosen by the student body. The project was funded by New Jersey-based GAF, which is owned by Standard Industries and manufactures the coating that the company says reflects ultraviolet and infrared waves and reflects heat without glare.

The past decade has been the warmest on record for the Southeast region. Georgia’s three hottest years on record have all occurred since 2016. Annual average temperatures in Atlanta have risen about 3 degrees since 1930, and the city experiences roughly six more heat waves each year than it did in the 1960s, according to an AJC analysis of federal data.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Experts say using reflective materials on roads and rooftops could help curb the urban heat island effect that causes cities like Atlanta to be much hotter than surrounding areas.

While the playground is just a small patch of pavement, Scott Starowicz, the school’s co-founder and chief financial officer, said he hopes the lessons to the broader community will have a ripple effect.

“My hope is that other schools do it as well and follow our lead,” Starowicz said. “It is a small project, but we’re educating the next generation.”

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The issue of climate change is especially relevant to SAE’s study body, which is 94% minority students, Starowicz said. Studies have shown racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change, including extreme heat.

Atlanta is one of a handful of cities across the country that have undertaken heat mapping projects to identify the neighborhoods at greatest risk from rising temperatures and longer heatwaves.

Credit: Meris Lutz

Credit: Meris Lutz

SAE is a private school of 374 students, from infants to eighth grade, that focuses on science, arts and entrepreneurship. The playground at the Mableton Parkway campus will feature two basketball courts, hopscotch, four square and some other decorations featuring the school’s dragon mascot.

Eliot Wall, general manager of StreetBond GAF, which makes the reflective coating and sponsored the project, said his company has done work at over 130 schools nationwide.

“We found elsewhere through research that the vibrant colors and actually the surface being cooler encourages kids to play more,” Wall said. “It has a positive impact on, obviously, activity and fitness, which then leads to better behavior in class.”


A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/