Heat Resilience Planning in Roanoke Schools

Roanoke City Public Schools "Smart City" Summer Program around heat resilience planning

In the summer of 2021, professors from Virginia Tech and UVA, in partnership with the City of Roanoke’s Sustainability Coordinator and Roanoke City Public Schools, facilitated a 2-week summer STEM program with students ages 12 -14 enrolled in the Roanoke City Public Schools Summer Enrichment Program. Students were given hands-on experience using urban sensing technologies such as handheld weather sensors and drones to build understanding of the correlation between materials and vegetation and temperature. In addition to learning to collect, use and contextualize scientific data, students also carried out interviews, and engaged in planning solutions to urban heat in their neighborhoods.

Heat Mapping Students 2
Drone shot of heat
Students around schoolyard

How did they do this?

  1. Students explored temperatures around Roanoke with a tabletop touchscreen and Google maps
  2. Students saw how a drone can collect land surface temperature
  3. Students measured temperatures and thermal comfort around the schoolyard
  4. Students interviewed classmates to understand impacts of heat 
  5. Students sketched solutions for places they cared about
  6. Students put together a plan for Northwest Roanoke on a map
Before and after mapping
Student interviews
Student sketching
Students drawing solutions

What did they find?

Evidence was found that heat is indeed a problem in Northwest Roanoke, with students describing serious health-related problems. Identified problems included physical discomfort and impacts to mood which resulted in coping mechanisms like freezing water bottles in the refrigerator to sleep with at night, fighting over electric fans, and sleeping on the ground to keep cool.  An interesting finding of the initial engagement with Roanoke middle school students was that the act of using scientific data within urban planning processes/participatory mapping was associated with increased perception of heat as a socio-environmental issue, rather simply a personal issue of feeling too hot.