Safety top priority for new school year
Dozens of students cross the road on their way to the first day of school at Fort Rucker Elementary School Friday morning.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Local children have returned to school, as Fort Rucker Elementary School and Fort Rucker Primary School are already one week into the school year that began Aug. 4, and Enterprise, Daleville and Ozark schools started classes Tuesday.

A new school year brings excitement for both students and educators, but there are also concerns about getting to and from school safely each day, according to Fort Rucker school officials.

Vicki Gilmer, Fort Rucker Elementary school principal, was thrilled to start the new school year, but had to send a letter to parents explaining that children could not be at school before 7:30 a.m., after having many students arrive at school as early as 7 a.m. on the first day.

“We have a little over 300 walkers and bike riders. The supervision of those children is really important. We have lots of eager kids on the first day of school,” said Gilmer.

Aside from the early arrival by many of the children, the school year began smoothly at Fort Rucker Elementary School, with students excited about returning from summer break.

“It’s been great. I really like my teachers this year,” said sixth grader Faith Nicholson about her first week. “Everyone here is so nice.”

Like many of her fellow classmates, Faith walks to school each morning, and she’s never felt uncomfortable getting to school in the mornings.

She says that the crossing guard, who is also the school’s librarian, makes her feel safe and is always friendly.

Gilmer and Peggy Contreras, Fort Rucker Community Police supervisor, both encouraged parents to be aware of the school’s policies as well as communicate with their children and teachers about getting to and from school.

“Remind the children who do walk and ride bicycles to make sure they use the bike path and sidewalk,” said Contreras, who also encouraged every parent to talk their children about what do to when something unexpected happens.

According to Contreras, Families should “always have a Plan B” in addition to the transportation plan they’ve made with their children.

Often, that plan includes notifying a neighbor or friend, giving them parents’ contact information and making sure children know where to go in case of an emergency or unexpected event.

One event that Gilmer and Contreras urged parents to be prepared for was inclement weather. Gilmer said that each child should have a “rainy day plan” that includes finding alternate transportation.

She said this plan seems even more relevant after the string of severe afternoon storms over the past few weeks.

Contreras added that being aware of weather forecasts and making sure children wear weather-appropriate clothing will help in instances of bad weather.

Preparation, according to Contreras, is key in handling most school safety concerns.

Drivers should also be aware of the changes on roadways that come with a new school year, she said. Children will not only be walking or riding their bikes to school, but also waiting at bus stops for Fort Rucker and off base schools.

“Drivers should be vigilant and more cautious in the school zones,” said Contreras, who feels that many drivers have developed a routine in the summer months that might need to be changed to accommodate children on the way to school.

Kim Kozel, School Support Services liaison, also advises drivers to remember that busses will be running during the school week.

Kozel encourages drivers to “be patient for the first weeks of school,” as children and bus drivers develop a schedule.

For children who are attending schools off post, Contreras reminds parents and teen drivers to be especially aware of the school zones when trying to get off base in the mornings.

Communication between Families, students and faculty is another way to ensure that children are safe at school, said Tracy Bergmann, a teacher at Fort Rucker Elementary school, who wants parents to know that their concerns can be brought to the school without hesitation.

“We have an open door policy, so if the parents have any questions, they can come into the school and ask. We want our parents to know that their children are safe and getting a quality education,” she said.

Contreras was also eager to help parents this school year, “Any questions or concerns parents have, we’re always available to assist them,” she said.

For more information on back to school safety, call the Fort Rucker Community Police at 255-9399.

Page last updated Thu August 11th, 2011 at 00:00