Now that school is back in session, let me share what to me is a very serious concern. First, though, let me tell you what happened that brought me to the realization of the gravity of the situation.
A couple years ago, Sue and I were making our way down Chenoweth Creek Road early one rainy and foggy morning in early spring, just a few days after the beginning of daylight saving time, on our way to work. Children were standing by the road waiting for their school bus. Visibility was extremely poor. We met an oncoming vehicle with its lights on high beam. Because of the glare of the oncoming vehicle's lights, the rain, fog and wet road, I could not see beyond the oncoming vehicle. As we passed I got a glimpse of children standing on the side of the road. If the oncoming vehicle had crowded me toward them, I would not have seen them in time to keep from hitting them. Realizing how close those children were standing to death and how close it was I might have caused such a tragedy nearly gave me cardiac arrest.
Immediately after this incident I wrote to the then Board of Education superintendent expressing my concern and asked if there was a program in effect to heighten the awareness of parents, educators and the public of the dangers children face while waiting for their school bus. I received no answer, of course. Since then, I have related my story and concerns to everyone who will listen. Everyone politely listens and says, "Oh, I know!"
Children don't realize the dangers they face while waiting for their school bus. They think that every driver will see them and take whatever evasive action necessary to keep from hitting them. While that is true, they don't realize that any number of things could happen that could result in their being hit, seriously injured and even killed. They don't understand that their body is no match for a ton or more of steel moving at 5 mph, not to mention what they would suffer if it hit them moving at 30 or 35 mph. We've all seen what I'm talking about.
There is no need for them to stand so close to the edge of the road. They should be taught the dangers of the road and made to stand a safe distance back from the highway.
Unfortunately, they aren't going to do this of their own volition. At their age, they have, to them anyway, more important things on their mind.
There may be an awareness program in effect in our schools designed to heighten the awareness of parents, school bus drivers and the public regarding this situation. (We've all heard the public service announcement about school being open and to watch for school children but ...) If there is, other than the one just mentioned, I've not heard anything of it. If there isn't, then such a program should be designed and put aggressively into effect.
I have the good fortune to work with some Boy Scouts. I asked two of them, one a junior at Elkins High School, the other a senior at Tygarts Valley High School, if their teachers had mentioned anything about this problem in years past and both said, "No."
Children's awareness of these dangers should be reinforced daily, or at any time they are observed exposing themselves unnecessarily. School bus drivers should work to enforce this safety measure by telling children to stand back from the road a safe distance while waiting for the bus. Parents, especially the parents, should be aware of where their children are standing while waiting for their school bus and play the major role in keeping their children safe from these ever-present hazards.
I can't begin to imagine the mental anguish that would come from hitting a child when it might have been prevented. Only those involved could know.
Given enough time, a tragedy will occur. We all know, too, that one could occur regardless of awareness programs that might be in effect, but the burden of suffering might be reduced knowing that we had tried our best to prevent such a tragedy through an aggressive awareness program.
I think every one of us would agree that our youth is the most important resource we have. Additionally, I think everyone would agree that doing everything possible to protect them should be our top priority. I'm not sure we're doing that - I think we're overlooking an area of their safety that is so obvious that it doesn't register.
At the conclusion of last week's column, I mentioned that there was talk at the Aug. 10 Downtown Merchants meeting about eliminating the two-hour free parking spaces in town. This, as is always the case when changes in the existing are suggested, will cause much debate. I would encourage everyone to hear both sides of the story. Personally, I think it's a good idea. I don't have a problem with paying for parking in town and I would rather have a meter at which I could buy all the time I need instead of being worried near the expiration of two hours of free time that I have to either rush and finish the things I have to do or go move the car to another spot - or as I've seen done several times, simply move the vehicle enough to cover up the mark placed on the tire by the person patrolling the free spaces and meters.
There are some negative aspects of the situation, of course. Some say, and it will certainly happen, that employees working in places of business located where the long-term meters are placed will park at the meters rather than farther away in reserved parking areas provided for them - especially if it's cheaper to do so. Others, for a variety of reasons, simply object to paying for parking. I can't understand this either; what's wrong with paying for the time needed to do what needs being done in town? It isn't that expensive and it helps our town's coffers.
Also discussed at that merchant's meeting was the possibility of a grand re-opening of downtown when the construction is finished. The mayor, through his "spokeswoman" Elaine Griesel, said he thinks this would be a good way to invite and welcome those who have been avoiding the construction area back to the downtown shopping area.
Those that have visited the new Wees Addition to the Randolph County Courthouse no doubt saw the beautiful photographs of prominent landmarks in Randolph County. They are the artistic work of Elkins' own Jerry Pastine. Pastine has more years than he likes to admit doing both land and aerial photography.
Copies of the prints in the courthouse annex and many other scenes and landscapes of Randolph County and Elkins are available through the Talbott Frame Shop, located at 220 Third St., or by calling 304-636-7691.
Next weekend is a big one at Davis & Elkins College. It is "Welcome of the Year" weekend. On Aug. 28, the vendor's fair for local merchants to represent themselves on campus to new and returning students will be from 8 a.m. until noon. Setup begins at 7:30 a.m. For more information, call 304-614-3129 to RSVP and reserve a table.
Then on Aug. 29, enjoy an evening with Jack Gibbons, artist in residence at D&E. Special guest will be Gerry Milnes and Friends, the West Virginia Highlanders of D&E College and the inspiring Doris Buffett.
There is no admission fee or tickets required. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 304-637-1338.