In the Frost Belt, virtually every elementary school has a gymnasium where children at recess or in a physical education class can find indoor refuge from harsh winters, when outside temperatures can fall below zero.
Here in the Arizona desert huge numbers of elementary schools don’t have gyms; their builders long ago correctly concluded that the reasons cited in cold country don’t exist here.
And so for decades Valley children have enjoyed playing and participating in physical education activities outdoors — in the sun.
We have come to know that those carefree days under the sun’s rays can build up and cause skin cancer. Arizona leads the nation in cases of the disease.
Christie Todd Whitman, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, visited Scottsdale’s Cherokee Elementary School Wednesday to urge children to learn of the sun’s dangers, to seek shade when outdoors and to use sunscreen. Whitman was here to endorse the work of Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling and his wife, Shonda, whose SHADE Foundation will work with the EPA and the state Department of Health Services to develop a skin-cancer awareness program for Arizona schools’ curriculums.
Parents would do well to reinforce Whitman’s advice. But leaving it up to children alone to stay in the shade and use sunscreen isn’t much of a guarantee of their protection. That’s why the Schillings’ plan to raise funds to donate shade structures, hats and sunscreen to participating schools will be a welcome, reliable way to shield youngsters from the ravages of the Arizona sun, whose effects might not surface for years.
Every Valley school would benefit from shade structures that not only keep the sun off of kids, but protect playground equipment from quick deterioration — and provide cooler hand-holds for playing children.
The Schillings’ generosity will help ensure that Arizona children at play will have it made in the shade.