Parents and school leaders say they're changing their ways this fall – from surfing the Web for school supplies to signing up for carpools – with an eye on burning less gas.
Even though gas prices have fallen from highs of about $4 a gallon, many consumers aren't banking on a continued decline. That has the back-to-school crowd thinking about gas conservation. Here are some strategies being used in school communities throughout Union County:
A carpool school
Ken Templeton, headmaster of Union Academy, is guessing 80 percent of his students are carpooling.
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“It seems to me we have more carpooling this year than last,” Templeton said. His school, Union County's only charter school, has about 1,000 students from all over the county and some from Mecklenburg and Anson counties.
Long before the gas price hikes, the school made carpooling a priority. Union Academy has a parent volunteer coordinator who keeps track of where everyone lives. If people need a ride, they call the coordinator. The school has had this system since opening in 2000.
The issue now, Templeton said, is deciding how to handle school field trips to museums, parks, Discovery Place, Washington, D.C., and other sites, given that charter bus costs are also on the rise.
Walk it off
About 65 percent of Anitoch Elementary's students live in neighboring subdivision Brookhaven, and many of those students now walk the short distance to school, said MaryAnn Amick, data manager for Anitoch Elementary.
“A lot of them have become walkers in the afternoon ,” she said. “It's good exercise, and the parents don't have to deal with the car lines.”
In some cases, walking in this neighborhood between Matthews and Weddington may be faster “because crossing guards will stop traffic for the walkers,” Amick said.
More bus riders
The Union County Public Schools transportation department isn't feeling the pinch as much as some school districts in the area, because gas-saving practices were put in place following the gas shortage after Hurricane Katrina, said Adam Johnson, director of school transportation.
“We pulled buses out of cul-de-sacs and added group stops for neighborhoods. That cut down on the number of miles the buses have to travel,” Johnson said.
Union County school buses carry, on average, about 25,000 kids to school each day. Ridership began increasing, especially among elementary students, at the end of last school year due to high gas prices, Johnson said.
Because of the changes the department made, it only had to add six new buses this year. Before the start of last school year, 32 buses had to be added.
“We're hoping we'll all be heroes and nothing blows up on Aug. 28,” Johnson said. “We've left room on buses so that parents having fuel concerns can put their kids on the bus.”