Riverhead Charter School students lobby for 20 mph speed zone

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Andres Alvarado of the sixth grade.

Did you know the speed limit outside the Riverhead Charter School on busy Route 25 is 50 mph?

The students and teachers know it all to well. Two years ago, their beloved crossing guard was struck by a car and injured outside the K-6 school in Calverton.

“I take my life in my hands just crossing the street to get a sandwich” at the deli, said sixth-grade teacher Laurie Behrhof.

Now, as part of a more than month-long school project, the Charter School’s fifth and sixth grades are lobbying the state and town governments to do something to make the area safer — be it through a 20 mph school zone, rumble strips or flashing lights to make passersby aware children are in the area.

To get the ball rolling, they invited Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy to the school Friday for a special presentation.

They showed the councilman photos of other Riverhead schools, such as the nearby Riley Avenue Elementary School, where there’s not only a school speed zone, but a crosswalk and the word “SCHOOL” painted in the road in large capital letters. The kids even built a tabletop model showing the school, post office, farm stand and deli that are all in the immediate area, as well as traffic running in between.

And for three days earlier this week, some of the students counted the cars that passed at different times of the day during 10-minute intervals. They counted anywhere from between 85 to 130 cars and trucks heading east, and 85 to 95 heading west on Route 25, depending on the time of day.

“Thank gosh no accident happened when we were out there,” Marcus Desire, a sixth grader, told Mr. Dunleavy as he and another sixth grader, Jeremiah Seabury, wrapped up an explanation on the traffic numbers.

“And we thank the teachers for making us back up, so we wouldn’t get hurt,” Jeremiah added.

The students also pointed out the school’s main entrance is only 50 feet from the road.

After the entire presentation, which lasted about 20 minutes, Mr. Dunleavy said he agreed that something needed to be done to ensure safety outside the school.

“The state and their engineers say that nobody crosses the street out front,” he said after explaining to the children that since Route 25 is a state road, the town has no jurisdiction. “That’s why they’re not putting in a speed zone.”

But, he added, he plans on meeting again with some students and the town police chief to craft a strong letter to send to the state. The kids have also penned a letter.

“I’m amazed that during 10 minutes out of the day you had all those cars pass the Charter School,” he said. “This was a great help. It opened my eyes and you guys did a great job. We’ll just have to all put our heads together. If we work together, we may get something going.”

As of now, there is only a small street sign indicating there is a school in the area, something Mr. Dunleavy lobbied for years back.

The presentation came as part of a project-based learning segment involving the two grades, made up of about 50 kids and four teachers. The teachers are Ms. Behrhof and Maryellen Weaver, who teach sixth grade, and Ryan Hernandez and Jaclyn Walsh, who teach fifth grade.

“The main theme of the lesson is citizenship,” Mr. Hernandez explained. “With this, they were to identify a problem and try to rectify the problem.”

Ms. Walsh said the project incorporates many different subjects, such as social studies, math, English and reading, and art.

“This is the first time we’re taking the project out in the community,” she said of the annual project.

And the students have come to realize that effecting change isn’t a walk in the park.

“We understand this may be difficult,” fifth-grader Brianna Archibald told Mr. Dunleavy. “But we’re up to the challenge.”

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