- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When it comes to education, it should go without saying that teaching and learning are the top priorities inside schoolhouses.

Getting students safely to and fro, then, is Priority No. 1.

Enter John Warner and Joe Biden, Edwin Moses and Bruce (Caitlin) Jenner, Clarence Thomas and Warren Burger, and Lynette Woodard and Joe Garagiola.

Add to that list a Virginia 10-year-old named Frank, who wrote a letter to President Trump and told him he’d mow the White House lawn.

These storied individuals began making a name for themselves as youngsters in the AAA School Safety Patrol Program. Manning designated intersections and school bus stops, the young patrollers are responsible for helping to usher kids safely from the street to school property in urban and rural areas.

The program began in Chicago in 1920, 18 years after AAA’s own start and amid the decade when Duesenbergs and Cadillacs, Fords and the Dodge brothers moved Americans.

Nowadays, more than 253 million cars and trucks motor Americans along, and one of the greatest assets parents and students have in their back-to-school safety arsenals is the AAA safety program, which works with police and sheriff departments, and school and community leaders to ensure students know when to stop and when walk.

As parents reset the back-to-school buttons, motorists must pay special attention to children. Many are the motorists who have been plugged into summer mode, with little worry about school buses and the precious cargo they carry.

The start of a new school year, however, means you might have not only to change your commuter route but also to travel a morning and evening rush-hour route with school buses. Localities and states have proactive laws regarding school buses, such as motorists must stay put as long are children are boarding or departing a bus. It’s a reasonable safety precaution.

The safety patrols and their school advisers don’t just go about their responsibilities in a willy-nilly fashion — and, yes, they do save lives.

Joe Beddick, a retired Montgomery County Police officer who now manages the AAA program, told me about a harrowing instance.

“A young AAA Safety Patrol in Front Royal, Virginia, saw a little girl drop her school project under the school bus,” he said. “She crawled under the bus to retrieve it. The bus driver could not see her and began to pull off. A patroller managed to pull her to safety.”

In another instance, Mr. Beddick said, a child had a seizure on the bus, “the patrol alerted the driver and stayed with the child until [first responders] arrived.”

There’s also the dart effect to keep in mind.

Another true story: A youngster’s hat blew off, and the child darted into the street to retrieve it. A school patroller saw the traffic signals changing and pulled the child back up onto the curb to safety.

We should be thankful that the patrols, who are middle-school age and chosen by their schools, are steady at the ready.

And those of us in the mid-Atlantic region should be particularly grateful. There are more than 600,000 safety patrols nationwide, and the mid-Atlantic has more than 90,000, with better than one-third of them in the D.C.-Montgomery County-Prince George’s County-Charles County area, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

D.C. school kids will be back on the bus in two weeks’ time, and Maryland youngsters start rolling after Labor Day — and when they do, motorists will be out in full force, too.

Mr. Townsend enumerated the situation: There are 639,000 vehicles trips within D.C., and commuters drive more than 1.3 million vehicles in the District daily. And he said, while no one wants to believe it, more than 1.9 million vehicles travel around the region every day.

AAA Mid-Atlantic has one of the most robust school safety programs in the nation, said Mr. Beddick, and he and Mr. Townsend should know. Mr. Townsend was in the safety program as a youngster in Huntsville, Alabama, and Mr. Beddick was one in his youth in rural Herman, Pennsylvania, and his kids were, too.

We should pay homage to school safety patrols, who do good deeds school day after school day.

You never know where such a life-forming experience will lead them.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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