By Rebecca Schmitz
Henley Middle School has changed its student pick-up and drop-off procedures to address increasing parent and teacher concerns over student safety. The new routine is designed to eliminate problems such as students darting between cars to find their parents, cars driving too fast through the pick-up line, double parking, and parked cars blocking lanes. Now, parents are no longer allowed to park on two of the most heavily traveled areas around the school (see map above); instead, they are offered alternative places to park, such as the loop in front of Brownsville Elementary.
Henley’s new principal, Dr. Beth Costa, who arrived at the beginning of the school year, initiated the changes after hearing from concerned parent Amanda Alger. Alger, the mother of a sixth grader, was surprised to witness a chaotic and potentially dangerous scene the first time she picked her daughter up at school. “Kids would pour out of the building in every possible direction to find their parents,” she said. She said children were darting out in front of cars and many lanes were blocked by parked cars. She saw frustrated parents snapping and gesturing at each other. “It became really aggressive. Our kids are watching how we behave, and it wasn’t setting an example of how to be a good community member.”
Costa said that at the time Alger contacted her, she hadn’t yet observed the pick-up process because at dismissal she usually spent her time with the buses. After Alger’s email, she observed the process and realized changes needed to be made: “There was not enough room in our current traffic pattern to support the safety of all students.”
Costa contacted Albemarle County School’s Director of Transportation Jim Foley, who visited Henley to watch the pick-up routine and conducted a traffic study over six months to confirm that bus traffic would be unaffected.
“Henley Administrators and I observed pedestrian traffic and determined that the administrators would direct pedestrian traffic. This really was the most effective improvement,” he said. “We also determined that the lane feeding into the road directly in front of the school was too narrow to accommodate two lanes of traffic. I worked with VDOT and the Sheriff’s office to determine that ‘No Parking/Standing’ signs should be installed on one side of the feeder lane and ‘No Parking’ signs should be installed on the main road into the lot for emergency vehicle access during events.”
Foley ordered the “No Parking” signs from VDOT. During the weeks it took for the signs to be installed, Costa communicated the changes with parents, letting them know where they would and wouldn’t be allowed to park and alerting them to alternative parking options. She said, “parents have been overwhelmingly supportive” and their feedback about the changes has been positive. She said that pick-up became safer and more efficient almost immediately after the changes were implemented.
Alger also finds that the pick-up routine has “improved dramatically.”
“Now cars no longer line up in front of the school two by two,” she said. “Everybody is being really courteous.”