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Keeping it moving

Valet program, run by students, helps with morning school street jam

Posted: September 16, 2009 10:09 p.m.
Updated: September 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Helmers Elementary School's sixth-grader Christian Fontal helps keep traffic flowing outside his school Aug. 31. Fontal and numerous other student volunteers help alleviate morning traffic with the school's valet program. They also escort kindergartners and first-graders to class which keeps parents from getting out of their cars.

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On a recent Monday morning, the neighborhood streets around Helmers Elementary School were jammed with cars, trucks and mini-vans loaded with kids to drop off for another school day.

The dreaded morning ritual can leave parents red-faced and seething as motorists speed or double-park amid the chaotic crunch.
But on that Monday, there was somehow a semblance of order to the traffic - and it was the kids who were keeping it.

Fourth- through sixth-grade student volunteer valets open passenger-side doors for arriving classmates and welcome them, shutting the door after they step out, moving the line of cars along.

It's Helmers' version of the valet program, a system run by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station for about 20 local elementary schools that's designed to keep kids safe and traffic moving during the peak hours when school starts and ends.

"It really helps in getting kids out (of their cars) and not getting traffic so congested," said Ana Belle, a parent volunteer who uses the seven-year-old valet program at Helmers.

"It really does make a difference."

The program uses as many as 25 to 100 student volunteers from fourth, fifth and sixth grades, said sheriff's Deputy Scott Shoemaker. All the students go through a day of training led by Shoemaker.

Like parents, Shoemaker has watched schools like Bouquet Canyon Elementary in Saugus improve traffic through the valet program.

"The kids don't have a reason to step out into the street," Shoemaker said. "It speeds things up and keeps kids out of the roadways."

Keith Karzin, director of safety and risk management for Saugus Union, agrees.

"It really improves the traffic flows around our schools," he said. "We have lots and lots of traffic congestion every single day both in the mornings and afternoons for a period of time."

Newer elementary schools like Bridgeport and Tesoro del Valle have been built with a valet lane in the parking lot, which relieves traffic.

Even with the valet program, parents like Belle watch as parents break the rules of traffic.

"People will do what they want to do to drop off their kids," Belle said.

It's something Diane Delahunty has seen as a campus supervisor.

"There are people who just drop their kids off in the middle of the street," she said.

Shoemaker said common concerns he runs into involve speeding, parents who double park or when parents park in homeowner driveways.

The valet system slows down when parents make their own rules when dropping kids off, Shoemaker said.

"We want parents to utilize the valet program and follow the traffic rules and regulations around our school for the safety for all of our kids," Karzin said.

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