Another school year begins tomorrow.

Students will leave their homes with butterflies in their stomach and sweaty palms; some will have a little skip in their step. All are part of the madness of that first day of school, especially for those students who have just moved to Highlands County. One of the big concerns for these new students will be what friends they will make on that first day.

Nearly all students will leave home asking themselves questions. Will they find the right classroom before the tardy bells ring? Will they like their teachers? What period will lunch be?

Then there are the kindergarten students heading off for their very first full day of school. They are clinging to mom’s skirt or dad’s pant leg. Both child and parent are fearing the day: the kindergartner not wanting to venture into the unknown, and the parent not wanting to let baby grow up.

Parents have already completed what they can to prepare their children for school. The necessary school supplies have been obtained, including shoes and clothes bought for that first day. Whether to take lunch or buy lunch in the cafeteria has been decided. Whether the child will be picked up from school or ride the bus home has been discussed. In reality, all of these decisions have been made prior to tomorrow morning, however parents are reluctant when it comes to stuff like this.

The scenario varies slightly, but the same thing will be played out over and over across the county. For parents, these first days of school are the time to soothe nerves and praise effort; to create routines that include study time, exercise and plenty of sleep.

Teachers have also been busy creating a fun classroom that will entice learning. They want a safe classroom where students are encouraged to try new things and think in new ways. Engaged students look forward to going to school despite the challenges, or even better, because of the challenges.

For teachers, these next few days will be a time to get back into character, setting an example by being fair, working hard and dressing professionally.

For the rest of us, it is time to model community spirit by driving slowly on neighborhood roads. Young children will be excited and pay less attention to traffic, wanting to cross the street to hurry home, or even school. They may not even use school crossings. As motorists we have a duty to slow down and observe those lower speed limits. Crossing guards will be doing everything they can to get your attention. Unfortunately not all schools crossings have a crossing guard on duty. Those will be the crossings where all of us must be the most in tune with the children.

There are some children who may also be walking along with their head down, giving attention to the cell phone or digital device they have in their hands. They may not know that a sidewalk has ended and a roadway begins. They aren’t paying attention to where they are going. As motorists, we must pay attention to them.

We must also exercise patience when teenagers pour out into the streets at the end of the day, or get into their cars to drive themselves and maybe friends home. According to the National Safety Council, teen crashes spike as they head back to school and happen more often during hours when school begins and lets out.

School buses will also be making stops in the early morning hours and mid-afternoon. Remember, motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and STOP arms extended. Penalties can include a fine as well as a traffic citation, but that compares to nothing if you fail to stop and hurt or kill a child.

No trip in a vehicle, especially where children are present, should be relaxed to the point that we aren’t aware of our surroundings at any time. We urge you to use extra caution as the new school year begins.

Parents are already nervous about sending their children off to school. Let’s all work to help them relax a little and drive safe. We’ve all been there.

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