Students across Clark County return to school

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter



o What: Volunteers needed to help students safely walk to school.

o Where: Washington Elementary School, 2908 S St., Vancouver.

o To volunteer: Call Carla Feltz at 360-313-3050 or email

With summer adventures now just a memory, 80,000 public school students across Clark County are back in school.

o What: Volunteers needed to help students safely walk to school.

o Where: Washington Elementary School, 2908 S St., Vancouver.

o To volunteer: Call Carla Feltz at 360-313-3050 or email

Volunteers Mick Hawthorne and Brad Jones donned fluorescent yellow and orange vests and carried orange traffic stop flags on the first day of school in Vancouver on Wednesday morning.

Together, they form a safety patrol team for a walking school bus route at Washington Elementary. About 10 volunteers help kids walk to school safely every morning.

Hawthorne and Jones greeted each student by name.

Carrying a red Spiderman lunch box, Aderris Bantilan, 8, was the first student to join the walking school bus Wednesday. It was his first day of third grade.

“It’s new,” he said, waving the lunch box. “I lost my old one last year.”

His mom, Razzaleen Bantilan, dropped him off at the meeting point on her way to work and waited for Hawthorne and Jones. The walking school bus has saved her from having to arrange and pay for before-school day care. She knows her son will arrive at school safely and on time.

Principal Patrick Conners said the walking school bus also improves attendance.

Washington Elementary is the only Vancouver district school with a walking school bus program. It serves a densely populated neighborhood of pre-World War II homes built on small lots.

Tucked into the Rose Village neighborhood along either side of East 33rd Street, Washington has the second-highest poverty rate of any elementary school in Clark County. At Washington, 88.4 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, second only to Fruit Valley’s 89.9 percent. Only five miles away, Felida Elementary has the Vancouver district’s lowest percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch: 13.3 percent.

On the next corner, Aderris is joined by the Watts family. Trever Watts, 9 and Owen Watts, 8, wore jeans, athletic sweatshirts and the same style of basketball-themed backpack.

Their sister Caitlin Watts, 5, was starting kindergarten. She had dressed carefully for the occasion: a pink sweatshirt over a Hello Kitty T-shirt, a poofy black tulle skirt, black-and-yellow striped tights and pink Minnie Mouse shoes. She completed her look with a Disney Princess backpack.

Their mom, Serena Watts, joined the walking school bus and walked all the way to school with her children on the first day. The boys walked ahead with Hawthorne, but Caitlin held mom’s hand.

Without comment, the group passed a ripped vinyl couch someone dumped on the parking strip next to the sidewalk. The cushions were missing.

“We see interesting things on the route,” said Carla Feltz, coordinator of the school’s Family and Community Resource Center, who walked with the kids on the first day. “Sometimes a volunteer will call me and say there’s a (drug) needle at such-and-such location. Then I call the police. The walking school bus is about safety.”

Next, Christian Mandeville Golson, 8, joined the group. The third-grader was the last student on the route Wednesday.

At each intersection, Hawthorne stepped into the street, held out his “stop” flag and waited while the kids crossed the street. Volunteer Jones brought up the rear.

“Washington Elementary is the hub of this community,” said Principal Conners. “We need to get our kids here safely and to get their basic needs met. We get volunteers, family and the school involved.”

Both Hawthorne and Jones are retired and wanted to get involved in the community. Neither of them live in the neighborhood.

“I liked the idea of adopting a school,” Hawthorne said.

As he approached retirement, he met with the school’s principal. Wednesday he started his fifth year as a walking school bus volunteer. Before that, he was a Lunch Buddy.

“You hear so much about drugs and kids in trouble,” said Jones, who retired from Microsoft. “You can either sit back and complain, or you can do something about it.”

It took about 15 minutes to collect the students and walk to school, where a hot breakfast awaited.

In the courtyard in front of the school, students and their families waited for the front doors to open. Conners and his staff greeted the students.

Deb Veach-White has been a walking school bus volunteer three days a week for six years. She attended the original Washington Elementary when she was a kid.

“I walked to school all by myself. It was a different time,” Veach-White said.

For the first day of school, she bought colorful pencils and gave one to each child on her route. On Fridays, she sets up treasure hunts for her kids, hiding stuffed animals, tying ribbons around trees and other fun things for the kids to find as they walk together to school.

“I learn the kids’ names right away,” Veach-White said. “I want them to know that it’s important for them to come to school.”

Around the county

Students in Battle Ground, Evergreen, Hockinson, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Woodland hefted their Spiderman and Disney Princess backpacks and headed to school Wednesday for their first day. Other districts started a few days ago.

Some students were lucky enough to return to school to find new facilities. In the Evergreen district, Crestline students were enjoying their first day in their newly constructed school, which replaced an older building destroyed by arson almost two years ago. Ridgefield students have some new facilities, thanks to a voter-approved bond that expanded and modernized older buildings. And, this fall, La Center’s football team will play on a new field built with community support.

Police are reminding motorists to watch for young pedestrians and bicyclists, and obey school zone speed limits.