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Elementary students get walking lessons in wake of bus driver shortage

A crossing guard, a scooter driver and a third-grade pedestrian walk into a gym class…

That was the scene at Jackson-Via Elementary School on Wednesday morning, as students took their second walking safety lesson of the new school year.

All Charlottesville schools offer the three-lesson safety course to all nine schools for all grade levels. This year, the district decided that students should begin the lessons starting in the first week of school rather than later in the fall.

“We practice a lot of walking on the road safely,” said Aiden, a third grader at Jackson-Via. “Especially because the road I live on is a busy road and the speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but a lot of people go more than the speed limit.”

The students took on the responsibilities of crossing guards, drivers and pedestrians in a role-playing lesson about walking safety. Physical education teacher Mark Shipp led the class.

“One of the things is them having an appreciation for what the crossing guard is doing,” Shipp said. “That’s something when I first started teaching it, it didn’t occur to me how much the crossing guards themselves are dealing with traffic and pedestrians, and now when the kids are trying to [walk] on making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Shipp gave the students a lesson in staying alert while walking, urging the group to stay off of their phones and pay attention to the direction of traffic while crossing the street.

With only seven bus drivers employed to take Charlottesville students to and from school due to a driver shortage, there are nearly 500 more students living within the expanded walking zone, according to the Superintendent’s Office.

There are currently two school-staffed walking groups, or “walking school buses,” to escort students with high-traffic journeys to and from school each morning. One group with up to 10 school staff members will be guiding students from Friendship Court to Clark Elementary throughout the year, while another group of up to six staff will escort students from the Westhaven neighborhood to Venable Elementary.

Busy intersections leading up to Jackson-Via, like those on Jefferson Park Avenue and Cleveland Avenue in the Fry Spring neighborhood, are decorated with signs that read “Go Slow! Cville kids walk to school.” This year, Charlottesville schools changed the elementary walking zone from 0.3 miles to 0.75 miles from the school, adding 490 students to the zone, according to the schools’ Superintendent Royal G. Gurley during a community transportation town hall last month. Walking zones at the secondary level have been expanded to 1.25 miles.

The district has mapped out the common walking and biking routes for students and families to use during their commute, which are available on the Charlottesville City Schools website.

“And when we say our common paths, those are those routes that do have very high visibility,” Gurley said. “We have been encouraging our families just as we’ve gone out, and we walked all of these routes that we’ve asked people to do, we are also asking our families just go out and make sure that you walk the path.”

During the town hall last month, which CCS held alongside the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents, schools Superintendent Gurley introduced the district’s plan to transfer Venable students to schools closer to their home addresses in order to cut travel times.

Charlottesville City Schools is still working with Charlottesville Area Transit, the city entity that provides buses and drivers to the district, to hire more than 30 drivers to take students to and from school.


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