By Danny Schrafel
Sixty fourth-graders from the Washington Primary School took part in a hands-on civics lesson Tuesday when they trekked out to Hauppauge to urge Suffolk County legislators to install a traffic light near their school.
The students, all members of the school’s fourth-grade leadership team, told lawmakers that the intersection of Park Avenue and Whitson Road, located a short distance from their school at 78 Whitson Road, is an “extremely dangerous intersection” that is congested and accident-prone, according to students Pablo Luna and Jonathan Vega.
Bus drivers avoid making left turns from Whitson onto Park Avenue because of the congestion, they said, instead choosing to make a right and take back roads.
“They thought it was very important,” teacher Debbie Quiles, coordinator of the Leadership Team, said. “It’s horrific trying to turn that way. Buses don’t go that way anymore.”
Several accidents have occurred at the intersection, students said, including one last year involving a school bus.
Student Joshua Redick said his sister was one of the students on that bus.
“It is dangerous and scary – there never seems to be a break in traffic to allow anybody to cross,” he said.
After deciding to act, the students went out into the community and, joined by parent chaperones and Huntington High School students, gathered over 300 petition signatures.
Students like Emma Hannigan said a traffic signal would not only make the road safer, it would save drivers money because they wouldn’t have to fix their cars or pay higher insurance premiums after accidents. Her classmate Mikah Schuller argued a traffic light would help the bus route run more efficiently.
Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), who hosted the group, explained that getting a traffic light installed would require the approval of the Department of Public Works which would evaluate whether it is warranted based on state requirements.
One possible roadblock, Spencer said, could be the intersection’s close proximity to Park Avenue and Pulaski Road.
“You have a situation where you’re breaking traffic within less than a quarter mile, and that’s a busy kind of intersection. Then, you have two breaks,” Spencer said. Unless those two lights are “sequenced perfectly,” a new traffic light could actually become a safety issue, he said.
The Washington Primary Leadership Team began three years ago under the direction of teacher Debbie Quiles and school psychologist Dr. Kathleen Mallen-Ozimkowski as a means of developing social-emotional skills at an early age. Researchers say focusing early on social-emotional growth pays dividends as a child grows – and the sooner, the better.
In addition to their campaign for a traffic light, the leadership team has partnered extensively with the PTA for fundraising events, held a spring basket candy collection campaign to benefit the Helping Hand Rescue Mission in Huntington Station, beautified their school and visited seniors at the Carillon Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Students meet during their lunch period on Thursday, and this year, the entire class is participating in the club.
Spencer said addressing the students’ traffic concerns will be a top priority.
“I wish was a matter where I could say, ‘Great idea!’ put a bill in and have Public Works do it,” he said. “But, we’re going to try.