R.D. White leads the way in school safety efforts

Eighteen months after launching its Safe Routes to School program, R.D. White Elementary School has emerged as a district-wide standard bearer for pedestrian safety.

Under the leadership of White parent Kara Sergile, the school has recruited more than 50 regular volunteers, revamped its drop off and pick up zones and successfully promoted walking as a viable transportation option.

"The more the parents know about [safety], the more compliance there is," said Joylene Wagner, a Glendale Unified School Board member and a White safety volunteer. "They are making a significant difference there."

Previously, the school's drop off lane was unstructured and unsafe, Sergile said. Now, drivers use a designated "valet" lane, making it a tight and orderly process.

"When a parents drives up to drop off their child, four or five parents are on the lane opening the car door, helping the child get onto campus," Sergile said.

Safe Routes to School is a national program designed to promote safety and healthy lifestyle habits by overhauling the flow of traffic at and around school sites. In 2009, the city of Glendale applied for and received a $898,560 Safe Routes to School grant to make engineering improvements at six different school sites. Construction work is expected to start this summer.

But pedestrian safety remains a top concern. During the last two months, three students have been hit by cars at Glendale schools. At White, the Safe Routes to School committee was born out of an October 2008 traffic accident that killed an 11-year-old girl outside of Toll Middle School.

And now, the changes implemented at White are catching the attention of staff and parents at other Glendale Unified schools. Martha Sensel, the mother of a Wilson Middle School student, is trying to set in motion similar reforms at the site.

"There are almost 1,500 students at the school right now, and something like 75 to 80% of the kids are all coming to the front of the school between 7:30 and 8 a.m.," Sensel said. "It is very congested. We don't have a formal traffic flow plan so it becomes chaotic."

Afternoon pickup is even worse, she said, because parents arrive early and sit and wait for their child, backing up traffic. Improving pedestrian safety at middle schools and high schools will require a different approach, Sensel said. And recruiting parent volunteers at Wilson has been difficult, she added. She plans to send out in January guidelines on traffic flow and school site safety.

"The best thing would be to have more kids walking so you have fewer cars coming at the same time every day," Sensel said. "Forty percent of our students live within one mile, and could be walking."

Sergile recently conducted a presentation on the White traffic safety improvements for the presidents of Glendale Unified schools' PTAs. The more that school officials and parents collaborate together, the safer the school sites will be, said Elizabeth Manasserian, president of the Glendale Council PTA.

"Everyone is concerned about the safety of their child when they go to school," Manasserian said.

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