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Crosswalk conundrum: A student crosses Central Avenue on a recent weekday morning.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Today’s Test: Get Here Safely

Albany schools and the APD look to find a solution to insufficient numbers of crossing guards

The three R’s of education—reading, writing and arithmetic—have long been considered the standard ingredients of a school day. Yet, for some Albany students, there may be another, more intimidating “R” to add to the mix: rush hour.

“There’s no crossing guard around when school starts,” explained Debi Gregory, parent of a student at the new Albany Preparatory Charter School. “Students are allowed to go in around 7:30 [AM], but there isn’t a crossing guard until 8.”

Albany Prep is currently housed within the Brighter Choice Charter School, located along one of the city’s busiest corridors near the corner of Central and North Lake avenues. And while the bright-colored jerseys of crossing guards can be seen most mornings around the busy intersections near most of Albany’s schools, Gregory said these part-time guardians are few and far between for students at Albany Prep and Brighter Choice.

“Moving our start time up has possibly left us with a situation,” said Chris Bender, executive director of the Brighter Choice Foundation, the nonprofit group that manages the school. The two charter schools open their doors at 7:30 each morning—earlier than most city schools, and a full hour before some.

“We have a longer day because we have very ambitious goals for what we want to teach the children,” said Bender, who added that the crossing-guard complication wasn’t immediately obvious to the faculty because so few students walk to school each day.

Although there are many aspects of the ongoing public-school-versus-charter-school debate that do show favoritism by the city to one side or the other, this isn’t one of them, said Bender. In fact, he said, the lack of crossing guards is a problem the 3-year-old Brighter Choice and the brand-new Albany Prep have only recently been made aware of—and one for which he expects to find a solution in the near future.

According to the Albany Police Department, which manages the city’s crossing guards and other traffic-safety personnel, the shortage of crossing guards is simply a matter of resources. With more than 20 schools currently operating within the boundaries of the city’s school district, there often aren’t enough willing part-time guards, volunteers or funds to go around.

“As the number of schools increase, we’re finding that there are areas that don’t—and simply can’t—get covered,” said Detective James Miller, spokesman for the APD, noting that Brighter Choice was not singled out for any reason. “But we’re working with the schools to make sure students are as safe as possible.”

Bender said that one solution may be to ask parents who are able to spare some time in the morning to volunteer as crossing guards—an arrangement that, said Miller, the APD certainly could facilitate.

It’s also an arrangement that, for kids like the two Brighter Choice students seen on a recent morning peering up and down Central Avenue while waiting for a break in the weekday traffic, might keep the most challenging part of the school day where it’s supposed to be: in the classroom.

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


What a Week

Abortive Reprimand

While some expected a strong condemnation from the White House of William Bennett’s comments made on a recent radio program, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that President George W. Bush “believes the comments were not appropriate.” Bennett’s critics, however, suggested that saying “If you wanted to reduce crime . . . you could abort every black baby in this country,” was more than just “not appropriate.”

Us? Propaganda?

The feisty and clear-seeing GAO is at it again. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office recently determined that the White House acted illegally when it paid public-relations firms and conservative pundit Armstrong Williams to push the No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, the GAO’s report accused the administration of disseminating covert propaganda in its own country.

Stop! Or We All Will Shoot

Newspapers in France, Germany and Japan will soon be warning tourists planning to visit Florida that they need to avoid arguments with state residents at all costs. The advertisements are paid for by the Brady Campaign, a gun-control advocacy group. The group argues that a recently passed law allowing the state’s gun owners to shoot rather than walk away if they feel threatened will increase gun violence in the state. The state’s tourism office claims the group is taking the state’s tourism industry hostage with its political agenda. The Brady Campaign says it doesn’t understand why the state doesn’t want potential visitors to know about the law, which is unique to Florida.

Go to War With the Army You Have

An amendment recently proposed by U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), which would force the Pentagon to obey a year-old law requiring it to reimburse soldiers and their families for body armor and other protective equipment they purchased while in Iraq, has met with opposition from the White House once again. Under the law passed last year, the Pentagon had until Feb. 25 this year to develop reimbursement strategies, but has yet to do so, claiming that such a policy would create “an unmanageable precedent.”




Home, low-impact home: Lance and Carrie Wong at their new Brunswick home, which features active and passive solar and many other environmental features.

photo:Shannon DeCelle

Shine On

Green homeowners open their doors to the curious

On a sunny day, the sun emits the equivalent of 1,000 watts of energy per square meter of the Earth’s surface. Most of that energy goes into waste heat. But this past weekend, Capital Region residents were able to see how far our sun’s energy can go. On Saturday (Oct. 1), more than 15 local residences shined up their solar panels for the 2005 Green Buildings Open House. The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (www.nesea.org) holds the Green Buildings Open House each year as a chapter of the American Solar Energy’s Society National Solar Tour.

Sarah Johnson and Dave Smalley’s Fultonville house was one of the homes open all day to visitors. Driving up the gravel road, and getting a first glimpse of the single-level, south-facing home, one would not know that this was a sustainable home. It has gardens and a shed in the yard, large windows and new siding, and a little dog greeting the visitors. Pulling closer, you see the two solar panels—one photovoltaic, which creates electricity, and one for domestic hot water—and a tall wind generator to the east of the house, about 100 feet away.

This isn’t your typical house. The entire home runs on solar and wind energy, and the daylight shines through large windows onto numerous shelves of books with topics such as energy, the outdoors, and living a simpler life. Johnson and Smalley’s solar panels create enough electricity to run a home office with two computers and a fax machine, along with stereos and an energy-efficient washer and refrigerator. The “guts” of the house contain batteries that hold the energy of the converted sunlight, and Johnson and Smalley say their home runs as easily as if it were on the power grid.

As Johnson sliced herself a piece of fresh apple pie, she described their home as “more comfortable than anything I’ve ever lived in,” with temperatures almost always in the 70s. One of the most positive results of relying on renewable energy, for her, is not using petroleum. That desire was partly what got them started on building their house this way. Basically, Johnson said, “We wanted to, so we did.”

The house would have been good for skeptics to view, since it had all the conveniences of a “normal” home—but the various people touring the home on Saturday were by and large those already interested in switching to solar energy.

Along with a dramatic reduction in heating costs, reduced dependency on foreign oil, slowed pace of global warming, and less pressure to drill for oil and gas in unspoiled landscapes, there’s a less-recognized incentive for going renewable: tax credits.

Jan Bever, who opened her farmhouse for the tour, said that tax credits from the government make financing a solar home relatively easy. The difficult part, she said, is actually getting the forms for those credits. “If you go [to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance], they will pretend they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bever said. However, the forms are easily available online. More information and links to the forms can be found at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (www.dsireusa.org).

—Breanne Brown


Loose Ends

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