Before hitting the stores for her daughters' school uniforms, Teresa Salyers hit the Web so she wouldn't burn up gas with aimless browsing.
Her strategy is an example of how many back-to-school rituals this month are being reshaped by the jump in gas prices.
Parents and school leaders say they're changing their ways this fall – from surfing the Web for school supplies to signing up for car pools – with an eye on burning less gas. A Ballantyne-area park even plans to sponsor a day of free tire-pressure checks to remind drivers that more efficient cars burn less fuel.
For Salyers, whose two daughters will attend Winget Elementary in southwest Mecklenburg this month, it makes sense to first scour the Web for coupons and sales before heading out to shop for school necessities.
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“I've been doing a lot of Internet shopping and consolidating trips when I do go out,” said Salyers, a teacher assistant at Winget.
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 southern Mecklenburg and Union counties:
Ballantyne: Waiting to bike
Sharon Damaré, principal of the brand-new Ballantyne Elementary School on Old Lancaster Highway, knows her nearby students are itching to bike and walk to school.
“Our parents are very mindful of the gas prices,” she said.
Just don't go solo yet, she advises.
Damaré (“It rhymes with gamma ray,” she says.) has asked parents to walk with their children first, and hold off on letting them bike until everyone can see how the opening of school goes.
While the school is surrounded by new neighborhoods with sidewalks conducive to walking, it also is just off Old Lancaster Highway, where cars travel at 55 mph.
“We are a late school (opening bell is 9:15 a.m.), so I don't know if all the work traffic will be gone by then,” Damaré said. “We're trying to get the lay of the land here.”
Car pool lines should move swiftly given the school's layout, Damaré said, but she's also reminding parents about other options.
“I encouraged parents to put children on buses … it saves parents from having to get into the car pool lines to begin with.”
Patricia Riska, principal of the newly named Polo Ridge Elementary on Tom Short Road, also expects more parents to choose the school bus over walking.
“We don't have sidewalks on a segment” of the road, Riska said. “I suspect we may have more children riding the bus.”
Drive-through tire check
521 District Park in the Ballantyne area plans to offer free tire-pressure checks on an upcoming Saturday, according to facility manager Chris Hunter.
“In the midst of high gas prices, we all can't go out and get a hybrid vehicle … but we can all go out and check tire pressure.”
Improper tire inflation causes drag and eats up gas.
Hunter and park staff members will check tire pressure, have pumps on site to inflate tires that need air, and give out a fact sheet on how proper tire pressure helps conserve gas.
Stay tuned for the date, Hunter said.
Keeping same good habits
School bus drivers at Charlotte Latin School on Providence Road will simply keep practicing longtime gas conservation habits, said spokeswoman Karla Jennings.
The school uses 13 buses that go to 10 designated pickup/drop-off points twice a day – “which helps save us a considerable amount of money on diesel fuel costs, since the buses aren't stopping and starting every couple of blocks in a given neighborhood,” Jennings said.
A lot of parents car-pool to these stops. Drivers also use Mapquest to find the most direct route for bus trips, and make a point of observing speed limits to help save on fuel, Jennings said.
Members of Park Sharon Athletic Association, based in south Charlotte, will keep car pooling to practices, said communications coordinator Christine Black.
She said it's long made sense to combine rides since the association has kids within the same neighborhood playing on leagues, and parents willing to take turns car pooling to accommodate each others' work schedules.
Casey Corser is noticing more walkers along Ballantyne Commons Parkway heading to Stonecrest shopping center, and more people riding their bikes to the YMCA.
She notices how her two younger children, in the second and fourth grade, are well into the habit of recycling and being mindful of resources like water, given the recent drought conditions. So walking, rather than riding from their neighborhood to nearby St. Matthew Catholic School, isn't a big deal.
“I think we will be doing a lot more walking, not so much because of me, but because they're more aware of it,” Corser said.
Academy is a car pool school
Ken Templeton, headmaster of Union Academy, is guessing 80 percent of his students are car pooling.
“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 car pooling a priority. Union Academy has a parent volunteer coordinator who keeps track of where everyone lives. If anyone needs 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 and other sites, given that charter bus costs are also on the rise.