Pretty soon children will be pulling on their backpacks, grabbing their lunch boxes and heading out for school. Regardless of whether the student rides a bus or walks, arriving at school every morning and at home every afternoon is a team effort between the students, parents and the school system.
"When kids are going to school, it is important for their parents to school them on what is a safe route, teach them not to talk or accept anything from someone they don't know or trust, and show them where to go if they don't feel safe or think someone is following them," said Roger Barton, crime-prevention specialist for the Herndon Police Department. "It's important for the children to do well with an authority figure, to get to know their local police, school principal or assistant principal, and to foster positive relationships with them."
IT IS IMPORTANT for parents to teach their children some basic, common-sense safety rules before school starts. Barton said the National Crime Prevention Council recommends parents teach their children safe routes that avoid known trouble areas, to teach their children to reduce their risk of becoming victims, to know the child's friends and their parents, to teach them to never open a door for or to talk to someone they don't know and trust and recommends that the parents set a good example for their children. Parents, he said, should also teach their children to resolve disputes with words instead of violence and to not use or associate with people who use drugs.
"Another key is for parents to become involved in their child's activities," Barton said. "Volunteer at school during lunch, or become involved in the PTA."
ALONG THE WAY to and from school, there are plenty of people looking out for the students, whether they know it or not.
Each elementary school has a safety patrol, made up of trained fifth- and sixth-graders, who help the younger students cross streets and keep an eye out for them while they are walking. The school system also has a block-parent program, which provides students a safe haven if they feel threatened.
"There are certain residences that have an orange placard in the window with a house design on it. If a child is frightened because there is someone in the neighborhood they don't recognize, or there is a dog running loose, or whatever reason, the child can go to that house and receive comfort and guidance and help," said Gordon Lawrence, the school system's coordinator of safety and health.
In addition, some schools will have crossing guards out front to help direct traffic and make sure the children arrive safely. Lawrence said the school system makes an initial assessment as to whether a particular area needs a guard, and the Fairfax County Police make the final determination, since the crossing guard is an employee of the Police Department.
Things such as the amount of vehicle traffic within a certain period, number of students crossing the street, accident history and sight distances of motorists are factors that determine whether a guard is needed.
THE SCHOOL SYSTEM, in general, provides transportation only to elementary-school students who live a mile or more from school and to secondary and high-school students that live at least a mile and a half away. Personnel with the Office of Transportation Services determine the distance by using a walking wheel, which measures distance in feet, and having someone walk from the school's boundary line until the person reaches either a mile or mile and a half, depending on the school, said Linda Farbry, director of the Office of Transportation Services.
In addition, the school-system staff looks for what is deemed "unusual hazards," such as ponds or busy roadways. Each hazard is judged in relation to the age group of the students that will be encountering it. If a walking route has one of these hazards, regardless of how close the child lives to the school, transportation is provided.
"We look at a lot of different variables," Farbry said. "For example, if a child lives across the street from a school and there is no safe walking route, we have to find some other way of getting that child to school.