Squeals of laughter and a touch of nervous energy filled the Hancock Park Elementary School playground as parents dropped off their children for the first day of school on Aug. 18. Kindergartners clung to their parents’ legs, not wanting to say goodbye, as 1st grade students called in delight to their friends from the last school year.
Alex Galstyan, a 1st grade student, ran around the school yard with a bouquet of flowers for his new teacher while hugging his friends he had missed over the summer.
“I had a good summer but I am ready to be back at school,” Galstyan said. “I am the most excited for arts and crafts, making stuff out of paper and other funny things with art.”
Meanwhile, kindergarten student Madeleine Uboh sat next to her mother, Maureen, and quietly took in the faces of all of her new classmates.
“I am the most excited to learn again, and to do homework,” Madeleine said. “I am ready to make friends too. I want even more than I have now.”
Before teachers began gathering the new students for their classrooms, Madeleine was already laughing and chatting with a new friend, Sari Friedman.
The Ubohs drove to school on the first day, but for the most part intend to walk to campus each morning. Galstyan, along with his mother and grandmother, also walked to Hancock Park Elementary on the first day of school. According to Principal Ashley Parker, many students walk to school each morning, which is why she has established a focus on safe arrivals at the beginning of this school year.
“Sometimes parents in their haste to get to work or drop another child off will rush and make a U-turn or quickly cut across the road, and it’s very dangerous,” Parker said. “We want to broaden parents perspectives to focus on a safety for all mentality. I understand they are on time limits and want to be respectful, but safety trumps everything.”
According to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, child pedestrians are at greater risk of injury or death from traffic collisions than adults due to their small size, inability to judge distances and speeds, and lack of experience with traffic laws. They advise that students walking to school stay on sidewalks, do not wear headphones or text while walking, and wear reflective gear or light-colored clothing if on a scooter or bicycle.
Parker said the school has invested in larger, brighter traffic cones to outline the drop-off area this year, as last year parents accidentally hit many of the cones and often dragged them down the road after dropping off their child.
“The biggest issue we face is with people pulling U-turns after dropping the children off, because there are plenty of people that park nearby and are crossing the street to walk the students over,” said Mark Reavis, morning drop-off volunteer and parent of 5th grade student, Samantha.
Combining the issue of U-turns made right after the student drop off lane with students and parents crossing mid-street without a designated crosswalk or traffic guard threatens to pose a tremendous threat to the children each morning. Three to four volunteers stand at the drop off line to ensure that everyone is driving at a slow speed and that students do not jaywalk.
“About 800 students attend this school, and a large percentage of them live in Park La Brea so they walk directly here,” said Jenna Denning, morning drop off coordinator and mother of two students at the school.
Denning first began advocating for safe drop-off precautions after her son was almost hit by a motorist in the Fairfax Avenue and Colgate Street crosswalk. She speculates that the reason that Hancock Park Elementary School faces such traffic problems is because of its location. With Fairfax Avenue as a major north/south corridor, commuters often are in a hurry as they pass the school in the mornings. Third Street is lined with The Grove on one side and major retail stores on the other, making it a major destination for local shoppers and tourists. Additionally, many motorists com and go from the Park La Brea neighborhood and the Palazzo apartment complex.
Parker has also negotiated with the nearby dress for less store, Ross, to provide parking for parents who wish to walk their child to school in the morning before store hours.
“When you have nearly 800 students merging into a small section of the city in the middle of a huge commerce area, it is very dangerous,” Parker said. “Transportation engineering has not kept up with in this area, and we need a safer system for students, residents and shoppers.”
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