An age-old tradition begins early Monday as thousands of children and teens in the Mountain Home area return to the classroom for their first day of the new academic year. For most, this will be a well-rehearsed routine they've done countless times over the years.
For a number of others out there, this will be a very different and perhaps a strange change in their lives, especially for our local kindergarten students who are just starting their journey into the world of learning.
It can be a very confusing time for students as they return to these daily routines, especially when it comes to making the trek to and from school. It's also true with parents trying to establish their own routine when dropping off their children at school in the morning and returning to take them home each afternoon.
That chaos can hit very unexpectedly at times. I still remember when my daughter, Nichole, started school while my family and I were stationed in Japan. Things seemed to go pretty smooth on the first day, but things went very wrong the next day after she didn't get off the school bus as planned.
My wife was in a full panic when she called the school wanting to know what happened. It got much worse when her teacher said she wasn't in class that morning.
In the end, things turned out OK in a classic case of a simple oversight. When Nichole got to school that morning, she was mistaken as a first grader versus a kindergarten student since she was significantly taller than her fellow students. So for one day, she earned an unexpected "promotion" to the next grade level.
Things got a lot less hectic and stressful after those first two days.
While I don't expect to have the same thing happen to students in the Mountain Home area, it's very easy for children and adults to get confused until they settle into a set routine. This is why I'm urging parents, students and others in this community to keep a close eye in the vicinity of our schools and to be ready to deal with the unexpected.
One of the biggest involves young children trying to cross roads to get to school, especially if it's not a designated crossing point. I've seen too many cases where a parent will park across the street from a school and their child will bolt across the road without checking to make sure the coast was clear first.
Anytime I'm near a school in the morning or early afternoon, I practice a very simple rule: Always assume there's at least one child hidden from view between parked cars. That has helped me avoid a number of close calls over the years.
Drivers have the toughest job once the school year begins. After all, an average vehicle weighs about 3,700 pounds, or nearly two tons. A child riding a bicycle might weigh in at 150 pounds combined, figuring the bike weights about 25 pounds.
It's no contest. The vehicle will always win in these types of collisions.
But rules of the road go both ways. Students and parents have just as much responsibility to make sure they are looking out for traffic and yielding for passing vehicles.
However, it's obvious that there are a number of folks out there that seem to have forgotten these basic rules.
I've lost count over the last nine years how many times I've had to slam on the brakes of my vehicle to avoid ramming into a student riding their bicycle or skateboard after they blew through a stop sign. Many times, they seem completely oblivious to the fact that their lives almost came to a very short (and painfully horrific) end had I not been watching out for them.
What's equally bothersome is the number of school age children out there that are spending more time walking along a sidewalk or street while looking at their smart phones versus paying attention to the world around them. I'm always wondering how many of them have actually tuned out the world around them and have no idea they're about to walk out into the middle of a busy street.
I'm just waiting for one of them to run into a street or stop sign. Maybe that would knock some sense into their heads.
To our local students, I wish each of you a very successful academic year. But enjoy the school year safely.
-- Brian S. Orban