MILTON — Berryhill Elementary School has seen an increase in its student population to 860, 55 more students than this time last year. The school had to come up with a solution to handle the additional pupils arriving by their parents dropping them off, according to Principal Roger Golden.
“I think we’ve had more parents dropping off kids this year than ever before,” Golden said. “We also have the largest kindergarten class…over 150 students alone. A lot of them are dropped off and it takes a little more time for the little ones to exit than the bigger kids.”
Golden heard complaints from parents upset their children were arriving to class late despite getting to school before the bell.
“We had a lot of parents that were upset about the fact that it took so long,” Golden said. “At the time, we didn’t think really had another alternative. In the past, we hadn’t. We had to tell parents to adjust their schedules to get them here on time.”
Berryhill’s first step to alleviate the tardiness was to open the school at 6:45 a.m., 15 minutes earlier.
By the second week, school administration noticed students were still coming in late due to sheer volume of pupils arriving by car, according to Golden.
“We have roughly 340 dropping off in the mornings,” he said. “I noticed most buses are in and out by 7:10. The bell rings at 7:30. So after the buses all exit and drop off (their students), we open the bus ramp as well in the mornings and that has alleviated congestion. The parents are thrilled.”
In addition to the 333-student increase in Santa Rosa County, Walton County has 337 more students as of Sept.8, 2017, compared to Sept. 8, 2016, and Okaloosa county has grown by 655 students this school year compared to September of 2016.
This is an issue the whole panhandle faces, according to Santa Rosa County Interim Planning and Zoning Director Shawn Ward.
“Santa Rosa County has worked with multiple schools in the past to address problems by adding additional waiting cue lines at Berryhill Elementary and East Milton Elementary on Ward Basin Road,” Ward said. “Infrastructure projects may not be the solution.”
Santa Rosa County Public Works Director Stephen Furman has also worked with the schools on this problem.
“I’m going to say something that’s not going to be popular with lot of people but the fact of the matter is traffic problems could be easily solved at all of the schools if parents would require their children to ride the buses,” Furman said.
For families who live off the bus route, Furman suggested driving the student to a bus stop rather than to the school.
“There certainly will be some instances…where there’s no way a child can effectively ride the bus. We get that,” Furman said. “We as taxpayers pay for those buses anyway so when people are driving children to school, they’re paying for the bus service. They’re really paying twice: their car fuel and wear and tear and paying to have bus driver drive around with a less than a full bus.”
For parents with concerns about negative influences on the bus from misbehaving students, Furman said they can just try it.
“Put your kid on the bus and ask them about the experience,” he said. “My children rode the bus. They enjoyed sitting with friends and classmates even if it was an hour trip. It was social interaction in a non-structured way.”
Berryhill Elementary has not pushed parents to use the buses, according to Golden.
“I think our transportation system works well,” he said. “I see no reason why they wouldn’t (use the bus). It’s something you can’t force on parents. I don’t get into that with them…I think both systems now are working really well.”