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KEEPING KIDS OUT OF HARM’S WAY

Keeping kids out of harm’s way: Happy Valley Elementary School’s PTO tackles traffic safety

By SHELLEY McFARLAND

The Happy Valley Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Organization saw a problem — too many cars and too much chaos getting students to and from school.

Safety was a big concern, especially after a student was hit by a car in the crosswalk. The PTO banded together, listened to parents and, with the help of the city of Happy Valley, worked to solve it.

“We had a meeting set already to talk about the Fun Run event in the spring. The week before we met is when the student was hit by the car. As parents who were involved with the school, we knew it was a nightmare … and we reached out to the city to see if we could do something together about the situation,” PTO co-President Tawna Thomas said. “Steve Campbell, our connection, loved it, and that’s how our collaboration started.”

“I was pleased to hear from the PTO and thrilled to partner on the safety campaign. It’s a grass-roots effort. I love when our residents take an active role in community safety,” said Steve Campbell, Director of Community Services and Public safety for the City of Happy Valley.

Ironically, the PTO was about to be disbanded at the start of the 2021-22 school year. At a meeting, Thomas reluctantly raised her hand and said, “if no one else will, I might be able to.” She was emailed later that afternoon with congratulations; the position was hers, sharing it with co-President Angela Dewey. Laura Sears is secretary, and Irene Scruggs is the treasurer.

With COVID-19 protocols still in place, running a PTO with only four members was difficult. Fundraising was limited, meetings were virtual, money was dwindling, and the fun events school kids and their parents loved were canceled. A byproduct of the pandemic was school bus ridership was at an all-time low.

“Normally, ridership in Happy Valley is 15% compared to 75% in Milwaukie. But with the pandemic, very few people put their kids on the bus because it seemed that’s where any extra COVID exposure was happening. It’s nice to have the luxury to take your kids to school, but it creates problems with traffic,” Thomas said.  “We saw what needed to be done.”

The PTO contacted the City and asked for more police presence to enforce no parking in the bike lane and to catch speeders. Together with City officials, they are working to reduce the speed limit from 35 miles per hour to 20 and to have the school zone lights turned on continuously during school hours.

The City also is working to move the lighted crosswalk east from Southeast Regina Court to Rolling Meadows Drive where the majority of students cross King Road.

“As moms, we do what can. Because of our traffic campaign, we have had numerous parents tell us they appreciate our efforts trying to fix the problem. We have seen a difference with speeders and traffic infractions,” Thomas said.

The PTO spent $800 on signage to help guide parents where to pick up their children. There are no-parking signs, and all signage was approved by Principal Heather Hull. The PTO members said they were impressed with the pick-up system former Principal Dianne Ngai originally put in place. Currently, three staff members coordinate the daily drop-offs and pick-ups.

“The City put us in contact with Metro, Safe Routes to School and Happy Valley Chief of Police Rich Sheldon. We’ve had two meetings, and they are allowing us to utilize their resources for our May 20 event — National Walk and Roll to School Safely, which will start at 7 a.m. at Happy Valley Park,” Thomas said.

The event will include Happy Valley Middle School and will show parents the options for getting their children to school safely.

“We want parents to know they have options to walk to school safely. They can park at the park and cut through the fields. At our event, we will have incentives, coffee and treats,” Thomas said. “The park is quiet in the mornings, and it’s good for the kids to walk, especially in early fall and spring. I’d like to see kids riding the bus again; it will help with the traffic. We were very happy with the response of the city. At first, we thought it was a fat chance even asking, but Steve Campbell and Stephanie Warneke were excited to help. They appreciated that we were willing to help.” 

Currently, the PTO also is working on a video, produced by HVMS, to educate families about safety during morning and afternoon transitions.

Happy Valley Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization decided to act after a student was hit by a car in a crosswalk in front of the school. Shown: Angela Dewey, Irene Scruggs, Tawnya Thomas, and Laura Sears.