It’s that time of year again. School has started, and the drivers have set aside logical ideas. Every school zone is a little different. In twenty years, I’ve worked at many different schools, and I have often been a part of a committee to talk about safety near the school. That nearly always turns a group of teachers and administrators to the topic of traffic. But here’s the problem: The school can’t control traffic. Only the police department can do that, and since police officers can’t sit outside the school all day, we’ll have to discuss the elephant in the car: parents.
The number one cause of bad traffic in the morning is poor timing. The huge majority of cars that line the streets next to the school at drop off time are typically parents who have a child who wakes up too late, and now the family is rushing down to the school at the last minute. Then, drivers often make poor choices, like trying to make U-turns or left turns across traffic, or they rush to cut in the line of cars because they worry about their child being late to class (when their driving is actually far more concerning).
SOLUTION: Leave early. Leave lots of time to arrive at least ten minutes before the first bell (7:40 at our school). DROP OFF SOMEWHERE AWAY FROM THE SCHOOL.
At our school (Miller), there are plenty of neighborhood streets that are quiet in the morning, and if you’re well-planned and five minutes early, it’s easy to drop off your teenager a couple blocks away so they can walk along with all the other wise kids who have a nice, peaceful stroll to school (rather than riding in a speeding car like something from an action movie).
The number two cause of bad traffic (morning and afternoon) is helicopter parenting. It’s time recognize that middle schoolers can walk a few blocks. Our students don’t need parents to “hover” from across the street, but we have lots of parents who feel the need to drop off and pick up their children at the curb closest to the school. This seems to defy logic when they have to wait in a long line of cars. In fact, my classroom is near a loading zone, and at the end of the day, cars are already lining up TWENTY MINUTES before school dismisses. Parents park their cars in a loading zone (that clearly says “No Parking”) and waste their time because they are too scared to let their child cross a street or walk a few hundred yards away from the school to a safer, quieter area.
SOLUTION(S): 1. Consider NOT driving to school. If your child attends a neighborhood school, then he/she is usually close enough to walk or bike to school. (Yes, every middle schooler is old enough to do that). A mile is only maybe fifteen minutes to walk for most kids. 2. If your child must be driven (because you live more than a mile), drop off and pick up a few blocks from the school. Your child can have a leisurely stroll for a couple minutes to a quiet, safe spot that you have decided in advance.
Our school (Miller) is situated in an incredibly safe neighborhood! Therefore, these ideas apply to the zone here in Cupertino, CA. If you’re reading this and your child’s school is not situated in a safe area, then I completely understand that you might need to drive them to school and pick them up. However, if you’re a Cupertino parent, please consider the age of your middle-schooler and her/his ability to use common sense when walking or biking to school. That independence is critical to their future, and it’s something to practice now. Plus, you can have more time to yourself. Why wait in traffic?!