VIPs deliver lesson in pedestrian safety

Caution: Howard executive stops traffic as school participates in Safe Kids Campaign.

October 03, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Pint-sized pupils trooping to school at Talbott Springs Elementary yesterday morning rubbed elbows along the way with the likes of Howard County Executive James N. Robey, Police Chief Wayne Livesay and Fire Chief Joseph Herr .

The police, fire and county government officials were there to underline the importance of encouraging children to be careful when walking to and from school each day.

Nationally, pedestrian injuries are the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 5 to 14. An estimated 25,000 children younger than age 14 were injured in 1999 after being hit by motor vehicles, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign.

"Everybody is concerned about your safety," Assistant Principal Paul J. Norfolk said during a brief rally on the school playground just before the 8:25 a.m. bell.

"This program has a big visual impact for the students," he said later. "They get to see how many people want them to walk to school safely."

The Howard County walk was one of nine in Maryland, and Talbott was one of 300 schools across the country that participated in safe-walking events yesterday.

"It's important that people be particularly cautious around schools," said Angela Mickalide, program director of the National Safe Kids Campaign, which sparked yesterday's programs.

A study conducted by the Washington-based organization last year found that nearly two-thirds of the vehicles traveling through school zones in the 30 minutes before and after school were speeding.

Talbott has had no major pedestrian accidents recently, but teachers say they worry about the children's safety because White Acre, Stevens Forest and Thunder Hill roads near the school carry high volumes of traffic.

And more pupils walk to Talbott than to any other school in the county, said Lt. Dennis Beard, public educator for Howard County Fire and Rescue Services.

Schoolchildren usually encounter a police officer as they cross White Acre Road each morning. Officers have assisted at that crosswalk, which is not at an intersection, since midway through last school year, said John Eckstrom, the school's safety coordinator and physical education teacher.

Before that, he said, teachers had been running into the street to help slow traffic enough for pupils to cross. "But we decided it was better for a trained officer to do that," Eckstrom said.

Instead of a police officer, children at that crosswalk yesterday were greeted by Robey, who took a 12-minute turn as crossing guard.

The white-haired man wearing a bright orange vest over his suit was a confusing sight to passing motorists and to the young children he ushered across the street to Talbott Springs Elementary.

Several bewildered drivers stopped their cars on busy White Acre Road -- even when Robey wasn't helping students cross. When a group of children approached, Robey hoisted his stop sign and motioned for the cars to halt.

"Stay right there until this car stops. Sometimes they don't stop," Robey cautioned a group of seven children who were crossing White Acre.

A few minutes later, Robey handed his stop sign to Sgt. Frederick von Briesen, a Howard County police officer who regularly acts as crossing guard on White Acre.

Sponsored in part by FedEx, L.L. Bean and 3M, yesterday's event lasted about half an hour and drew 20 FedEx employees and a handful of police officers and firefighters, who passed out pencils, zipper pulls and bookmarks.

Participating schools are supposed to send "walkability" forms to the National Safe Kids Campaign by Friday so they can be analyzed and returned, Mickalide said. With that data in hand, community leaders will be able to devise plans to make the walk to school safer, she said.

Parents walking with their children outside Talbott yesterday morning said they appreciated the program's message.

"It's great for a child to understand what it means to cross the street -- how to behave, where to cross and when to cross," said Vladamir Lugatin, who was walking his 6-year-old daughter to school. He said they walk to school together every morning.

Marian White, a fifth-grade reading and math teacher at Talbott, said she thought the biggest benefit of the program was that it brought parents and children together.

"It gives them something to talk about," she said. "Parents in this area are generally so busy that it's good for them to take some time to think about how their child gets to school each morning."

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