school buses

School buses of the kind photographed here Aug. 14, 2019, at Shultz Transportation Co. in Willow Street soon will be everywhere in Lancaster County, as the new school year gets underway. 

THE ISSUE

Columbia Borough School District opened Monday — the first Lancaster County public school district to do so. Cocalico, Lancaster Mennonite and Pequea Valley students will start school today. Donegal, Conestoga Valley, Lampeter-Strasburg, Lancaster Country Day and Penn Manor schools open Wednesday; Hempfield on Thursday; and then others next week. As usual, Warwick schools will open after Labor Day.

The excitement of the start of school used to be mostly about new backpacks, new pencil cases stocked with new No. 2 pencils, and, if you were lucky, new sneakers and carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfits.

Now the start of school means so much more. As LNP’s Alex Geli reported on LancasterOnline on Sunday, schools will usher in a slew of new features and programs for the 2019-20 school year. They include, interestingly, the introduction of restorative justice practices in Lancaster, Columbia and Eastern Lancaster County school districts, and a “pre-apprenticeship” program at Elizabethtown Area High School.

Some students will learn in new or renovated facilities. School building projects are expensive and sometimes controversial, but they represent a community’s investment in education and its belief in the future.

Students of other schools, including Lampeter-Strasburg’s Martin Meylin Middle School, will be greeted not by new buildings, but by facility dogs. It’s an empirical truth that dogs make everything better.

Some parents — and kids — rejoice at the arrival of the yellow school buses in their neighborhoods. But it can be difficult to trade the unstructured, homework-free days of summer for the continual demands and hectic schedules of the school year. Summer generally flies; the academic year takes its time.

But so many good things await Lancaster County students, who are blessed with fine schools and dedicated teachers. We’re rooting for you all (and for the college students returning to campus, too).

It isn’t easy being a student in 2019, preparing for a future filled with work we can’t yet conceive. Attending school before the digital age was challenging enough. Now, students are bombarded by information sent directly to their electronic devices. What information can be trusted? What information is valuable? Helping students figure that out is now the duty of teachers as well as parents.

In Pequea Valley School District, students are called “learners” and their teachers — dubbed “learning facilitators” — are charged with helping them to learn in individualized ways.

The term “learner” “connotes action,” we wrote in 2017 of Pequea Valley’s districtwide embrace of personalized learning. “Scoff if you will, but when terms change, mindsets often change, too.”

There are shared skills and facts that students must acquire. But an intentional emphasis on personalized learning seems to be the future of education. It’s an approach that other county districts have embraced, and Conestoga Valley is moving toward.

Parents who are interested in this approach should read the book “Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning,” by Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey — if, that is, they have time. We know the school year is challenging for parents, too, and not just because of back-to-school nights (which we recommend parents attend, if they want a sense of what their children experience each school day).

Good luck with those back-to-school forms you’ll need to complete in the days to come. Read the Schools section each Tuesday in LNP to stay on top of what’s happening in local districts. And try to enjoy your children’s school years. The academic year may seem long, but the sum of your child’s time in school will pass in a blink. Trust us. We know.

Kids on the move

If you travel morning or afternoon on streets crossed by students, slow down and drive carefully, please. And follow the instructions of crossing guards, who execute their essential duties valiantly and in all kinds of weather.

We also ask drivers to be aware of the children waiting at corners and on sidewalks for their buses. Remember that you must bring your car to a complete stop when a school bus is picking up or dropping off students.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, you must stop when a school bus’s red signal lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended. You must stop at least 10 feet away from the school bus, and wait “until the red lights have stopped flashing and the stop arm has been withdrawn before moving.” Do not move “until all the children have reached a place of safety.”

If you violate the state’s School Bus Stopping Law and are convicted, your driver’s license will be suspended for 60 days, and you’ll get five points on your driving record and a $250 fine.

“Annually, more than 700 drivers are convicted for passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing,” the state Department of Transportation website says.

One other thing: Observe the 15-mph speed limit in school zones. To borrow from a popular yard sign, drive near a school as if your child is a student there.