Shade / UV Index
“We can’t afford shade structures, so the
subject of sun safety will not be considered,”
declared one school administrator.
Although shade structures may indeed require
acquisition funding there are numerous steps a
school can take to reduce children’s exposure to
ultraviolet (UV) radiation with little or no
Avoid unintentional sun
Begin with a survey of your schoolsite(s) to
identify existing areas that are shaded.
Children should not be required to spend time in
direct midday sunlight if a shade alternative is
at hand. For example, sometimes children are
ushered into the middle of a field for a
prolonged period of time during a disaster
drill, or are required to sit at a lunch table
that is not shaded. Establish procedures to
shift activity and congregation into shaded or
indoor areas when feasible. When there is no
reasonable alternative, compensate by
encouraging or providing other sun-protective
items, such as hats, long clothing, umbrellas,
Track the UV Index
The level of ultraviolet radiation striking
your school varies with the altitude, season,
time of day, and weather conditions. Levels are
greater from March to November, and from 10:00
a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during daylight saving time.
These are the periods when sun safety should be
most strongly promoted.
The Ultraviolet Index is calculated daily to
forecast the strength of ultraviolet radiation
across the nation. You can determine the UV
Index for your area by logging on to the EPA
www.epa.gov/sunwise. Click on “UV
Index Forecast,” and search by entering your zip code.
Kickoff your sun safety program each year
during the first week of March, on the first day
of Spring, or during Wellness Week with
announcements, reminders, instruction, etc.
Between March and November (or year-round in
high UV areas) heighten awareness by tracking
and communicating the UV Index to the school
community, accompanied by appropriate warnings
and sun safety tips when the level is high.
Trees can not only provide shade for outdoor
activities, they can also help to keep school
buildings cooler, reducing air conditioning
costs. Look for sites on the campus that could
benefit from tree shade.
Mr. Frank McDonough, horticulturist at the
Los Angeles Arboretum, has provided his
recommendations for the best shade trees for use
on Southern California campuses. See his list on
Through their "Campus Forestry" program, Tree
People (a California nonprofit) assists schools
to design and develop a tree-planting program
involving the participation of students, staff,
and parents. Visit their website at
Scheduling of outdoor
There usually aren’t sufficient resources for
making substantial changes, but try to take
advantage of lower UV levels before 10:00 a.m.
and after 4:00 p.m. by prioritizing outdoor
activities during those periods. Between 10 and
4, which is of course most of the schoolday,
don’t discourage outdoor physical activity but,
particularly during the high UV season, strongly
promote sun safety measures to “Block the sun;
Not the fun.”
In areas of the country where winters are
cold, there is usually a gymnasium, even at
elementary schools, to provide children with a
protected environment for physical activity.
During sunny weather, capitalize on a gym’s
capacity to protect against UV radiation as
The area adjacent to a building can sometimes
be a good source of shade. Locate and encourage
the utilization of such existing areas. Any
plans for new construction or remodeling should
include shade provision as an important and
desirable feature. Factors such as height,
positioning of the building(s) on the lot,
overhangs, and breezeways can significantly
increase shade availability.
The lunch area and the young children’s play
equipment are two sites commonly found on school
campuses where shade is highly desirable.
In some cases, a shade structure might be the
best solution. Over the lunch area, a steel
roofed structure might be the best choice due to
the added rain-protective feature. For play
equipment and large or irregular shaped areas, a
UV-blocking fabric cover would be a logical
Of course it wouldn’t be possible, or even
desirable, to shade the entire school campus.
However, reasonable efforts can be made to
increase the shade options currently available
to the students and staff. When shade structures
are desired, check for available grant, state,
or local resources, and partner with parent
groups to organize a fundraising drive.