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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Valet service brings safety and order to the morning rush at a Mt. Washington school

The frantic scene outside of Mt. Washington Elementary on school day mornings would have been familiar to anyone who has dropped off a friend at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX. Traffic backed up, cars doubled parked in the no parking zone, and kids loaded with book bags dashed between vehicles as they raced to beat the morning bell. One Mt. Washington parent even posted a video on Facebook of the risky and illegal traffic maneuvers performed during one morning on narrow San Rafael Drive outside the school. "Parents were making U-turns in front of the school," said Mt. Washington school parent coordinator Andrea Jayasekera. "It's nuts." Jayasekera and other parents decided to do something about this chaotic morning ritual after a vehicle grazed a student in front of the campus. That's why Jayaskera and other Mt. Washington parents, dressed in yellow safety vests, stood outside of the school Wednesday morning for the first day of the Safety Valet Program.

As a parade of cars, minivans, SUVs and pick-up trucks pulled to the curb, the volunteers held open the doors, greeted the kids and directed them to the entrance during the morning rush between 7:45 am to 8:15 am. Up to three cars at a time could be unloaded in a lane marked by traffic cones. Also on hand was a school district traffic cop to keep drivers under control. The idea behind the Safety Valet Program is to make for a safer and more orderly drop off and pick up of students. Volunteers at more than 150 Los Angeles schools have received training through the program, said Maritza Sosa Nieves with the city's Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families.

The program provided parents with safety vests, traffic cones, signage and some training. Some basic points, as recalled by valet Eric Ragno, included stay on the sidewalk, don't blow whistles and don't confront the parents. Parents said the morning drop off seemed much less frantic Wednesday morning, with the exception of a driver or two that grazed the curb or a traffic cone. There was also one driver in a pick up truck who drove through the valet lane while talking on his cell phone.

There are no immediate plans for safety valets to help out at the end of the school day. The challenge now is to keep enough volunteers on hand during the school year to keep the program running in the morning. But, Jayasekera and other volunteer valets were happy with Wednesday's results. "Parents were receptive and the kids were really excited."

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