Amid honking horns, fist shaking, screeching brakes, darting children and aisles of mini vans, the drop off areas of our schools have become the latest target of public outcry. The issue of child safety is being sacrificed for flaming expressions of our need for speed in the latest craze – car pool rage.
It was suggested on a local radio station this week that parents are the problem. Our children have become even more spoiled as evidenced by the growing numbers of parents driving their precious cargo to school daily rather than building character by expecting them to walk in any weather. Couple this with that same parent’s need to arrive at work in a timely fashion and you get the irate, screaming, short-cut seeking drivers forcing these innocents to confront moving vehicles and their chauffeur’s wrath simultaneously. What a way to start a day: frightened, both physically and mentally. What kind of role models these young parrots are observing and learning from. Disaster threatens on all fronts.
Similar issues, thankfully, have been addressed, passed and enforced over the last five years at our elementary school. The results are now practiced at all four ‘rush hours’ and are still being reviewed and perfected. All it took was a couple of concerned parents with a few ideas to present to the proper committee and the change process began. The evolution may have seemed slow, but the accumulative affects have noticeably improved the goals of both speed and safety.
- The initial step taken was the installation of swing gates at the junior school entry way. No longer could any vehicle enter the parking circle after 3:00 pm (one half hour before grades 1 – 8 finished). This meant that the parking lot at the church across the street was fully utilized. Parents of the JK and SK students must cross the street to collect their children at the now protected entrance. Students dismissed from the rear door and circling the building could exit the property with less fear of potentially dangerous pushing and shoving along the narrow sidewalk. But the morning congestion had yet to be addressed.
- Introducing a volunteer run “Kiss and Ride” program. Two parents attend the drop off area outside the JK/SK doors for a minimum of 15 minutes before the school bell indicates commencement. They open car doors closest the sidewalk, assist in unbuckling seat belts if necessary, extend a cheery ‘good morning’ to the driver and kids, and shut the door(s). No longer does a driver or child need to exit on the ‘inside’ of the traffic circle. The line of cars moves quickly enough to decrease the temptation to start a second, double parked lane. The school Safety Committee circulates the volunteer list early in the school year and is responsible for designing an equitable rotation of these parents and provide the service in the mornings and after lunch prior to the afternoon classes.
- In 1998 – 1999 school year, the new principal instituted a shift of school hours from an 0900 start to 0830 and corresponding finish times. Playground supervision also followed suit and had to be changed to 0800 – 0830. The original motivating factor was based on a study indicating that elementary children learn better in the morning. This meant radical family changes for some, but the half hour ‘head start’ for working commuters has certainly eased some driving tensions and reduced before school care dilemmas.
- 1998 – 1999 also saw the application of new school boundaries. The residential area that fed the school population was reduced in order to fairly distribute students to another brand new school facility. The results of this change not only significantly reduced the number of attending students, but made it possible for the school to become a “bus- free” zone as all regular students lived within a one mile (1.6 Km) road radius. No longer were the school buses blocking the main front entrance access while discharging or loading students. Cars could now use this narrow access way for dropping off older students not requiring assistance.
- The monthly school newsletter sent home to all parents reminds drivers of the courtesy issues of the Kiss and Ride program. The last one highlighted the need to make right turns only from the junior school circle so as keep the cars moving out as efficiently as possible.
- The current proposal of the addition of traffic lights to replace the cross walk was also mentioned in the minutes of the latest school council meeting. Just the thought of losing one of our school’s most valuable assets, Jim, the crossing guard, makes me tearful. He diligently learns and practices every child’s name daily and the children respond so much more readily when their own name prefaces any verbal direction!
- The universal antidote: car pooling. Meet your neighbors and at least offer to take turns. You will feel better for having tried to be part of the solution by reducing the number of cars involved. The added benefit is that even if problems persist at the drop off zones, you only have to deal with them half the time!
Our Kiss and Ride volunteers are even better dressed this year thanks to a donation of heavy all weather coats to wear under their fluorescent vests. As they stand between two neon orange zone cones, they certainly deserve a round of applause for their continued dedication. They are now identifying the next generation of safety recommendations, like seat belt and baby car seat compliance. I’ll have to wait for the next newsletter. Until then, I’ll try to recall these words of wisdom…
“Anger is one letter short of danger.” Eleanor Roosevelt and “If you can keep a pleasant, cheery outlook in all you do and say until 10:00 am, the rest of the day will take care of itself.” Unknown.
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