Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 31, 2013

Back to school

It has been many years since new year began in September

The Independent

ASHLAND — Those of us who have passed the half century mark can remember when August was a month of long days in the sun, tanning ourselves at the pool, taking naps in the shade, playing ball with our friends and just goofing off in those days before the dreaded arrival of Labor Day.

In those days, Labor Day for children from 6 to 18 was not a time to celebrate the accomplishments of working men and women or the role of unions in increasing the pay and working conditions for all of us. Instead, Labor Day was a time for enjoying the last day of freedom before the start of yet another school year. For in those days, the school year always started on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

My how times have changed. Labor Day is still more than a month away, but for area school children, the school year will begin weeks before September arrives.

At midnight today, July will fade into August. Just a few hours later, children in Lawrence County will be boarding the big yellow buses to transport them to the first day of school. While children in Louisa and Blaine and Fallsburg will be getting the earliest start on the new school year, they will be soon followed by children in Boyd County and Fairview Independent on Aug. 7, students in Greenup County and Carter County on Aug. 8, those in the Ashland Independent and Russell Independent school districts on Aug. 14, and students in the Raceland-Worthington Independent school District on Aug. 15. Students at Rose Hill Christian School will be the last to begin the new school year, but even then, the first day of school will be on Aug. 19.

An early start

At least in recent years, Lawrence County has always been the first area school district to begin the school year. Superintendent Mike Armstrong says that’s because school calendars are no match for Mother Nature, and the chances are good that sometime in December or January the weather will turn foul, snow and ice will clog the roads and schoolchildren will remain home for days at a time.

“It’s our roads and our terrain. We have a number of roads where the sun never shines,” Armstrong said.

Devoting the entire month of August to school packs in vital instructional days unbroken by stretches of down time during which students forget some of their lessons. Front-loading the school calendar helps alleviate the regression and retention problem, Armstrong said.

Thus, while children and parents often complain about the school calendar reducing the time that used to be reserved for family vacations, many educators agree with Armstrong that having more school days when the weather is nice actually improves education. While there are some who still lobby for a return to the time when the school year went from Labor Day on the first Monday in September to Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, their calls fall on deaf ears. Even high school football seasons kick off before the first of September.

Need for caution

The start of a new school year means motorists need to use extra caution as students make their way to and from school in the early morning hours and during the times they are headed home, usually between 3 and 6 p.m.

Motorists need to know  they are required to stop whenever buses have their lights flashing and stop signs out while children are either boarding or deboarding. Even oncoming traffic on four-lane roads must stop for school buses unless the roadway is divided by a median. In this area, that means all traffic must stop for buses on such busy four-lane roads as most of  13th Street and Greenup Avenue in Ashland, Diederich Boulevard in Russell and Argillite Road in Flatwoods, and U.S. 23 in Catlettsburg. Bus drivers complain too many drivers of oncoming vehicles ignore the flashing lights on those busy highways. When they do, they not only are violating the law but also risking the lives of children getting on or off buses.

Many parents (or grandparents) drive their children to school in their personal vehicles and pick them up after school. For the safety of the students, it is important motorists exercise patience and keep their emotions under control during this sometimes tedious and frustrating time. It is critical that lower speed limits around schools be observed and enforced when students are arriving and departing.

While not so much in county school districts, many students in the Ashland, Fairview and Russell school districts still either walk or ride their bicycles to school. Children do not always use the best judgment when walking or riding their bikes. They sometimes dart into traffic from between parked vehicles or fail to look for oncoming vehicles when crossing the street. A fatal accident that occurred in Ashland during the 2009-10 school year is a grim reminder that even waiting for the bus can be dangerous. 

The most important part of the school day is the time students spend in the classroom, but all of us can play a role in making going to and from school safer. Help make this year a safe one.