An age-old tradition begins this coming Tuesday as thousands of children and teens in the Mountain Home area return to the classroom for their first day of the new academic year. This is in addition to a number of students that have already begun classes at the new McKenna Montessori School and Richard McKenna Charter High School, which opened their doors last week.
For most families in our town, this will be a well-rehearsed routine they've done countless times over the years. For a number of others out there, this represents 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. Take my family for instance.
I still remember when our oldest daughter, Nichole, started school while we were stationed in Japan. Things seemed to go pretty smooth on the first day. We watched as she climbed on the bus and then met her at school for her first day.
The second day, on the other hand, was nothing short of routine. I still remember the frantic call I got from my wife after our daughter didn't get off the school bus as planned.
She 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.
For several minutes, my wife and I scrambled to figure out what happened and, more to the point, where our daughter ended up. In the end, things turned out okay in what ended up being a classic case of a simple oversight.
When Nichole got to school that morning, the bus monitors mistook her as a first grader versus a kindergarten student since she was significantly taller than her peers. So for one day, she earned an unexpected "promotion" to the next grade level.
Things got a lot less hectic and stressful for my wife and I after those first two days.
While I don't expect to have something like this 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. In the 10 years that my family and I have lived in Mountain Home, 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.
This is why I practice one very simply rule, especially when I'm near a school in the morning or early afternoon. I 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.
Hand-held technology seems to be making things even worse. Thanks to so-called "smart phones," I'm now seeing more people paying more attention to their phone than watching where they're walking. A few of them are wearing headphones or have ear buds stuck in their ears, which can easily block the sounds of an approaching vehicle.
I'm just waiting for one of them to trip on a sidewalk or smack their head into a stop sign. Maybe that would knock some sense into their heads.
However, I think something much worse will happen, and that's only a matter of time before we have an incident where someone in Mountain Home gets hit by a passing vehicle as a result. I just hope I'm wrong.
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, and the child will always lose.
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 really annoys me is when I hit the horn to get their attention and they act all surprised and shocked.
I even had one that "flipped me off." However, he rapidly regretted that mistake when I located his parents and told them what he did before they hauled him back into their house for a little one-on-one "counseling."
To our local students, I wish each of you a very successful academic year. But let's enjoy the school year safely, okay?
-- Brian S. Orban