Though the middle school has moved across town, a large number of students will still be getting there on foot.
“I think people thought the change in location, being farther east of town, might have an impact on it – where we would bus more students,” said Middle School Principal Ed Birnbaum.
Instead, though many kids who would have walked are now too far away, plenty of kids that were too far away before will now be walking.
“I think if you look at the Knollcrest district, and the Cooper Cchool district, and not quite as far as Feelhaver, but the Duncombe School district, a lot of those will be walkers,” Birnbaum said.
School buses run throughout town, but students must live farther than two miles from the school to be eligible. And 2,600 of the district’s roughly 3,600 students are not eligible, according to the school’s transportation department.
It’s a big deal to the younger kids when they first are able to walk to school without parents, said Cooper Elementary Principal Bruce Hartley.
“My own kids went to school here,” Hartley said. “After a while in the spring they’d be ready to start riding their bikes to school, and want to have that freedom.”
At some neighborhood day cares, the fourth- or fifth-graders will be put in charge of shepherding the younger children to school, he said.
“That’s kind of a rite of passage, the older kids look forward to the time when they get to be the leaders.”
He estimated that more than half the Cooper students were either walking, riding bikes or getting dropped off by parents.
“We have kids that are five to six blocks away riding their bikes,” he said. “One thing I noticed when I came here last year, as compared to the two schools I’d been at previously, is that every day our bike rack is pretty full.”
Hartley has worked at Feelhaver and Riverside Elementary in the past.
Crossing safety is key with young kids. The four-way stop at 14th Avenue North and 24th Street gets busy after school, he said, as well as across from the school parking lot.
“We have crossing guards at three different locations to help them get across the busy streets,” Hartley said.
It’s up to teachers and parents, to remind kids how to stay safe, said Superintendent Doug Van Zyl.
“We’re asking parents to make sure they have conversations with their children, and understand the importance of crossing the street properly,” said Hartley.
“The safest thing to do is to cross in those designated areas, and cross where there is an adult or somebody to supervise,” Van Zyl added.
Drivers must also be vigilant to watch for kids crossing in the wrong places, he said.
“That’s one of my biggest concerns,” said Hartley. “When we have kids who are walking out from between cars, that’s what really scares me.”
Using the sidewalks is also important, Van Zyl said.
“That is part of the challenge for us, as a school district. Not every street has a sidewalk,” he said.
Thanks to the city’s trail system, there is a good wide sidewalk along 10th Avenue North that will take kids to the middle school. Five new crosswalks along 10th Avenue and two on North 32nd Street will be in place by Tuesday.
The district will be looking at those new crossings, to see where a crossing guard might need to be stationed.
Birnbaum said there might be some confusion about traffic flow until parents get used to the new facility. For example, you can’t turn onto the school property from 32nd Street if you are traveling north, he said; you have to be traveling south. However, from the east-west street Dodger Drive, you can get into the school from either direction.
Also, the north side of the building is for school buses and faculty; parents should come in from the south.
At Cooper, there is a new pickup lane for parents, said Hartley.
“We’ll have the students out in the horseshoe here, in the middle of the school,” he said. “They’ll be able to give us the name, and we get the student there and get them into the car without the parents having to park and come up to the school.
“That will help us not have kids going through traffic to get into cars across the road.”