Low chatter rumbled through the halls as a crowd of students surrounded the entrance to the classroom of Spanish teacher Melissa Hannah. It was a Tuesday morning, and the collective feeling of dread caused by first period Spanish 3 was palpable. Underclassmen and upperclassmen alike had no inkling of where their instructor could be, and their curious mutters turned to whispers of excitement as they wondered if they could avoid the impending assignments.
Shoes clicked down the hall, and the mood of the hallway was instantly sobered. The source of the clicking was Hannah, meaning work would soon be upon them. After they settled back into the daily routine, one question remained in the minds of the students: Why was she late?
“I have to leave [my house] an extra half hour [earlier than last year] because I have to drop off my daughter in Arden, and take Airport Road all the way down to Haywood [Road]. If you come from Mills River, you are stuck and you are waiting forever,” Hannah said. “There was one day after doing that this week that I was late. My students were actually lined up at my door because I wasn’t here yet. It was embarrassing and horrible, and I hate being late.”
Traffic on Haywood Road has been the cause of many tardy slips this school year for West and Rugby students alike. According to administrative assistant Pam Smith, West has had days where almost 60 students were tardy in the mornings.
Both schools made changes to their schedules this year, moving their start times earlier to include time for a smart period.
Rugby moved not only their start time, but their drop-off time as well. Parents used to be able to drop their children off at 7:00 AM, but now must wait until 7:15. School starts for them at 7:45 instead of 7:50 this year, so there is a 30 minute window where kids can be dropped off at school. While many people think this is the cause of the daily backups, Rugby has been flexible with the time they allow students to be dropped off.
“We started the year trying to advertise that we were not going to open our doors until 7:15, but what we found is that by the time 7:10 hits, our traffic is starting to back up into 191,” said Michael Gates, assistant principal, athletic director and bus administrator of Rugby. “We’ll monitor it each morning, and as the traffic hits our bridge, we’ll start to open the doors and let kids out onto the sidewalk.”
According to Gates, the reasoning behind the schedule changes at Rugby were made to increase school safety.
“As far as opening the doors, we found last year that we were having a huge amount of issues in the gym with student behavior because we were trying to keep them in the gym from 7:00 in the morning to 7:40 when we would dismiss. That’s forty minutes of time that students are sitting in the gym, and it was too chaotic,” Gates said. “We don’t have enough staff members here to monitor those students properly. We figured if we could decrease the time that students were in the gym, we would have fewer discipline problems. If you think about school safety in general, the more time that you have students in large groups, that is more opportunity for someone to do something on a mass scale. We wanted to reduce that [chance] from a school safety perspective as well.”
While many have assumed the new schedule at Rugby was the sole cause of the traffic problems, others like math teacher Rebecca Hanson have noticed recent unusual timing from traffic lights on Haywood Road and North Rugby Road.
“I still come down North Rugby [in the mornings] and try to turn left, but the left turn light is way too short. I wind up sitting through four or five lights to turn left,” Hanson said. “In the meantime, while I’m trying to turn left, people from the other directions clog the intersection when their light starts turning yellow, and then I’m sitting there staring at a green light, unable to turn when it’s my turn. This makes me later to school than I would like to be, and means I cannot do any early morning tutoring.”
According to Brandon Pressley, an electronics technician with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the lights on Haywood Rd and in the four-way intersection connecting Haywood to North Rugby are the cause of the morning congestion.
“[The lights] actually do run on sensors in the ground normally, but, with the construction, they were damaged,” Pressley said.
Because of the construction project aimed at widening Haywood Road, the sensors that alert lights to change usually if a car rolls over them are not working. The traffic lights are now running on timers, which do not accommodate for the school traffic.
“The 191 traffic is terrible in the mornings, and I spend almost the same amount of time driving from my house to get to that road, and then sitting on the road,” senior Annalise Krauss said. “It takes five minutes just to turn onto the road, and then I just sit there, and then I have to sit again, and then finally turn into West. It takes forever.”
By: Elise Trexler