Saturday, 18 January 2014

Whatever the Weather, We're in This Together

We've had a week of wild weather. The deep freeze of winter was interrupted by chinook winds that knocked out power to thousands of homes and either polished road surfaces to slick glassy ice or softened them to the point of developing foot deep car swallowing ruts. The results for schools were that some were closed and others were hard to get to. Adult responses to the week varied.

Most people took the school closures in stride. No power = no school was an easy concept to grasp, even in the instance where a school had no power but much of its neighborhood catchment was powered up. Ground conditions were a different story. Several complaints arrived expressing concern, frustration and anger about icy roads, buses, playgrounds and parking situations around schools. Many of the complaints included the suggestion that providing more space would solve the issue.

These situations underscore a few inconvenient northern truths. Life here includes challenge. The weather is what it is, and we who live here generally adapt, deal and roll with it. We almost accept it as a badge of honor. Our northern resilience and coping attitude is a point of pride. We also live in a time of tremendous technology and convenience, and when circumstances interfere with expectations we want action and results. When roads aren't cleared, when parking is an issue, or playgrounds are slippery, dissatisfaction and frustration quickly follow.

The fact is, nothing can be done to control the weather. When its bad, municipal and school board resources are stretched to react promptly. Whether such efforts are adequate will always be a topic of hot debate. As for traffic around schools, the inconvenient truth is that the buildings were designed to facilitate people, not vehicles, and the time, money, space and manpower needed to clear or expand parking lots is simply not available. For this problem the solution lies in less, not more, for if we can't accommodate the traffic we have, then maybe, just maybe, the solution lies in creating less and/or redirecting traffic to other safer paths. 

Letting students walk, even a few blocks, to their schools seems to be a huge challenge for many families.  Issues of safety, weather, and convenience always arise.  Family routines may be well established and deep rooted. However, if we bring the same resilience and innovation to this issue that we seem to bring to coping with the weather, solutions can be found. Establishing safe drop off zones, erecting clear signage and identifying and enforcing car free bus and walk zones will help ease the congestion and safety issues near entrance ways. Duty schedules can be examined and parent groups mobilized to ensure adequate adult supervision is present. The city does its part in working hard to clear sidewalks around most schools. Everyone would love to be dropped right at the front door, but the benefits of even a few extra steps in terms of lessening traffic congestion, increasing student safety and fitness and role modelling good life habits in terms of fitness and courtesy are tremendous.

There's a northern saying that there's no such thing as too cold, just under dressed. Sending students out in the cold might seem harsh, and no one is advocating that we put children at risk of frostbite or injury, but being prepared with proper seasonal clothing just makes sense, regardless of where or how one is travelling. Getting students to and from school safely is a priority for this district in any season. Hopefully working together we can find solutions that work for everyone.

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