Not that anybody asked…

…but here’s how to organize car riders at your larger-then-average elementary school.

Actually, people have asked how we clear 200+ children out of there in 15 minutes, but they’re not likely to be reading this. Still, I set it down for posterity, because it is a marvel.

THE PROBLEM

You have an assortment of parents who for whatever reason prefer not to have their child delivered straight to their home by bus. (I cannot mock, my own son was picked up religiously by his mother or her designee all the way through 8th grade.) At Newnan Crossing, nearly a quarter of our students are car riders.

So, how do you get the right kid in the right car quickly, safely, and securely?

The first few days of school, when every kindergartener and preschooler is picked up and many of the older kids as well, the problem is especially acute, and we have often joked that we could just turn the 300 kids loose in the great river of cars waiting outside the lunchroom and let them find their own ride home. It’s tempting.

However, we’ve developed a system that is the envy of all who see it.

THE BASICS

First, you have to have a database. In the database, you need an entry layout with the kid’s first name, last name, homeroom, and grade. You will also want a checkbox for “new,” which I’ll explain anon.

You will also have another layout with this info writ large, preferably with a non-reproducible school kind of logo screened in behind it. This is your “car rider sign.”

The day before school starts, you get a data dump from the student database and import it into your database. (Perhaps your school/student database will allow you to set up the car rider sign layout in it, lucky you.) Print out two car rider signs for each student.

Prior to printing these out, you have printed the backs of them. In big letters, it says:

Have this sign in your window for us to call your child out to put in the car.
Keep it in your window until your child is loaded.
We cannot load your child without this sign.
Thanks!

In a small box at the bottom, it says:

Parents may copy this sign if they need to.
Please keep this sign even if your child is not regularly a car rider, you will need it if you ever need to pick your student after school.

You print two of them for a) two parents, or b) regular pickup person and a spare.

When you get new students, or parents lose their signs, or the first name of the kid in the computer is not what they’re called and the little darling just sits in the cafeteria while his real name is being yelled out, you will want to print new signs. That’s what the “new” checkbox is for. When you create a new one or find an old one, you check the “new” box, then search and print the “new” ones. This keeps you from thinking you’re printing the one new one you’ve made and actually sending all 873 to the printer. Again.

Some database advice: create a script to find and print the new ones, and another one to clear the “new” box. Also, when you’re printing out the 800+ signs for the first day of school, print the back once and print the screened in logo once, then run those through a copier for your 1600+ templates. Waiting for a printer to print 1600+ pages with screened in graphics is not fun. Also, remember to uncheck the “collate” box in your print dialog, otherwise you’ll find yourself sorting 1600+ car rider signs. Also also, remember to sort by grade and homeroom before you print.

THE STRUCTURE

There are four components to the actual loading of kids.

First, there’s the holding area. For us, this is the lunchroom. It used to be the front of the school, but then we got big overnight and went from 30 car riders to over 100. We actually had to switch the bus and car rider areas.

So all the car riders are delivered to the lunchroom by the teachers or their surrogates. In the holding area you will have enough staff to a) keep them quietish, and b) call their names. Advice for the holding area: everything stays in the bookbag, and coats stay on. One or two of the staffers have walkie-talkies.

Outside, you have two areas: the calling area and the loading area.

We use three lanes of traffic. You may choose to use fewer. Do not use more. We tried that one year. “It was decided” we could move more kids through faster, but because the traffic director couldn’t readily see when all the cars were loaded, it was not a good thing.

The cars immediately in front of the portico, and you need a portico, are the loading area. You will need one staff person for every car you load. We load nine cars at a time, i.e., three cars in three lines.

The cars next in line are the calling area. You will need one caller for each line. Each has a walkie-talkie.

The final component is the traffic director, the brave and alert person who stands in front of the lines of traffic and bids them stop and go. That would be me.

THE PROCESS

Every car must have its car rider sign displayed in the dashboard. No sign, no kid. If you don’t have your sign, you have to go park and come into the office and sign your kid out, photo ID and all. Even if you’re the PTO president who spends most of every day volunteering, no sign, no kid. This is our security measure.

Every day, before I even get to the lunchroom, the loaders have already scoped out the first nine cars and lined up the kids. When I get there, the callers swing into action and begin calling the next nine cars in the calling area.

The loaders take out the first bunch of kids. The second bunch of kids begin to trickle out to the portico, where they are told by the first line loaders to stay up against the wall, i.e., no mucking about.

The loaders load the kids, I pull out the lines one by one, the next nine pull up. Repeat.

THEORY & PRACTICE

The theory is that while we’re loading nine cars, the callers will be reading the car rider signs and calling the next nine kids, who will be coming out and getting ready. Then the loaders just have to escort them out and pop them in the car. Some days, this happens.

But kids don’t listen, kids go to sleep, kids forget and get on the bus or go to after school. There are glitches every day. So here are some observations from the guy whose job it is not to run over kids.

First of all, I’m not paying attention to the kids. Memorizing 200+ cars/parents and which kid goes with which car, and then recalling that info flawlessly in seconds every afternoon, is not a recommendation I would make.

I watch the loaders. Each loader is assigned a specific spot, and I watch to make sure each one has walked out there with a kid before I start pulling lines out. Obviously, no one can pull out until the loaders have finished crossing through.

I pull out the lines one by one. Otherwise, we’d have three lanes of traffic trying to merge into one to exit the campus, and that would inevitably slow us down.

As you’re stepping back to pull out line two, then line three, keep an eye on line 1, which will probably already be loaded by the time line 3 begins to move. Keep an especial eye on that first car, especially if it’s a new person or a grandparent or someone who doesn’t know the drill, i.e., they are to sit there and wait for your direction. Because that’s the person who, having their kid, just pulls away, causing the next person to think they’re leaving, and then all kinds of disasters can ensue as loaders are trying to make their way back out to lines 2 and 3.

Watch for the parents who have not developed a system for twisting around and getting their kid strapped into the car seat within a reasonable amount of time. (Grandparents who are picking up for the day are especially bad at this.) You have to decide whether to make everyone wait, or to pull out the other lines and load them and just stop that parent where they are until the next loading is done.

If the kid is not there to be loaded, that’s a problem. Hundreds of people are being held up while we search for the kid. The first few days, of course, everyone has to be patient, but after a month or so, I’m not inclined to wait for the kid. I pull everyone out and direct the parent to pull over to the end of the sidewalk while we retrieve the kid who was not paying attention to his name being called. If a little intergenerational friction results, I’m OK with that.

When loaders are out, others take up the slack, and it’s important for me to know who’s loading which car, because again, I don’t watch the kids, I watch the loaders.

It’s an excellent system: quick, clean, with enough slack built into it to help it survive glitches but rigorous enough that everyone knows what to expect. We rarely have problems with parents. Even people new to the school catch on very quickly, especially after I step in front of their car to keep them from just pulling out. (I don’t know why, but new people always end up first in line.) Every afternoon, my heart swells with pride at our cheerful, efficient team as we get rid of the kids in record time.

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