Most mornings between 8:25 and 8:45, parents dropping off their children at Rolph Road Elementary School will see a man dressed in an orange safety vest directing the busy traffic in front of the school. This man is the principal of the school, Michael Kennedy, and he is there to monitor the morning traffic situation.
Over the years, a problem has developed at drop-off and pickup times with parents anxious to get as close to the school as possible before dropping off their children. This has led to a situation where parents park illegally on the side of the road in front of the school, double-park or even stop in the middle of the street. While many do use the opposite side of the street where parking is legal, they sometimes park for a few minutes to chat with other parents, further limiting available drop-off spots and adding to traffic woes. All of this congestion creates what Mr. Kennedy calls “an unsafe drop-off area and a concern about potential injuries.”
The principal believes the main reason for this situation is the convenience for the parents in dropping off their children on the way to work, or when the family is running late. Understandably, the situation is worse on cold or wet days and better at lunch or after school when the pickups are spread over a longer period of time.
One of Mr. Kennedy’s main strategies for improving the traffic congestion is positive reinforcement of the practice of walking to school, and getting the message out to both the children and parents. He pointed out that the catchment area for the school is only about a kilometre in area, and several years ago, the school started a program called “I Walk Wednesdays” to encourage walking, cycling or riding a scooter on those days. The Green Communities organization, which promotes green initiatives, has supported the program by gathering data, donating prize money to encourage participation, and organizing events such as one about cycling safety.
Today the program is popular year-round with the students enjoying both the exercise and the community spirit of walking together in small groups. The school also awards ribbons to classes with the highest percentage of walkers. These ribbons are proudly displayed on classroom doors, and it is not unusual to have 100 per cent of students walking in some classes.
Another strategy to ameliorate the situation is educating the parents about the safety issues involved in the morning traffic. To that end, there has been lots of brainstorming at Parent Council meetings. Mr. Kennedy himself frequently reminds parents about the issue in his weekly bulletins, and stresses the parking rules with kindergarten parents so they will develop good habits early. He emphasizes as well two viable alternatives: dropping children on the Hanna Rd. side of the property or dropping them off a block away on Rolph, both to encourage walking and decrease the congestion.
In addition, he has consulted with Councillor Jon Burnside, Trustee Gerri Gershon and the police in his quest to find a solution to the traffic problem. With his background as a police officer, Councillor Burnside is in a good position to liaise with the police and community, making helpful connections and suggestions.
Mr. Kennedy’s plan for the future is to have the police step up enforcement at key times such as the first week of school or the week after a break. He is hopeful that such a program can be put into practice next year, and that it will encourage better habits.
Robin Dickie, former school council chair (and current Leaside Life graphic designer), has high praise for Mr. Kennedy and stated that parents are “very happy with his efforts in controlling traffic, establishing clear guidelines and encouraging walking.” They have great respect for his morning patrol work, which he occasionally enlivens with a humourous costume. After all, he feels a special calling to serve Rolph Road School to the best of his abilities because it happens to be the school his father attended.