Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Students didn’t get as sweaty as usual during recess Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Brooklyn Primary School.

But they weren’t as active either.

That’s because the children in kindergarten through third grade were kept inside for recess — and physical education classes for that matter — because wildfire smoke has resulted in poor air quality.

And it wasn’t all that bad, according to students in teacher Kylie Emory’s third-grade classroom during their first indoor recess Wednesday.

Johnee Hallett said that inside was better in her opinion “because I’m not so hot.”

Johnee and her fellow 8-year-olds agreed that the inside play was fun as they tried to suppress giggles while watching a “Try Not to Laugh” video that showed some silly antics of cats and kittens.

Although the classroom temperature has reached into the 80s during the record-breaking heatwave Baker City has been experiencing, Emory says her classroom is cooler than most because it’s situated away from the heat-reflecting black top in the playground area.

And Emory brought her own room-cooling fan to keep the air circulating.

Students also entertained themselves with board games, video games on iPads and played with Unifix connecting cubes Wednesday.

But as always, their play time ended too soon with Emory announcing “OK class, recess is over.”

Principal Phil Anderson said students played outside after arriving at school Wednesday morning, but when the time came for the first recess at 9:30 or so, he decided to keep the kids indoors for the day.

By Thursday when the air quality had worsened, students were brought inside upon arriving at school and all recess and PE classes also were conducted inside the building.

Thursday’s average air quality index in Baker City was 169 — the highest in at least the past decade, according to records from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The daily average for both Thursday and Wednesday (151) were in the “unhealthy” category.

Anderson said he made decisions about students after conferring with Baker County Health Department officials.

“It was more as a precaution,” Anderson said on Wednesday. “Safety is our top priority so when air quality is like this we communicate with the health department and make the decision that’s best for all of our kids.”

See more in the Sept. 8, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.