BAXTER -- Take the bus, please.
That's what Forestview Middle School officials are encouraging students to do. Long lines of vehicles leading to the pickup and drop-off area and front parking lots were backed up along both directions of Crow Wing County Road 48, also known as Highland Scenic Drive, on the first day of classes Tuesday morning at the new Baxter school.
Officials are hoping most parents will send their children to class on buses or via carpools, rather than dropping them off at the door.
Forestview opened with few glitches considering the facility has become a melting pot of sorts for more than 1,300 students from two Brainerd schools. But traffic congestion quickly was recognized as a problem.
More students than anticipated rode to school with their parents rather than riding a school bus. The heaviest traffic occurred from 7:30-8 a.m., when cars were lined up along Knollwood Drive and Highland Scenic Drive, waiting to pull into the school parking lot. Traffic was busy after school as well.
"I think parents will find the best way to get through eventually," said Carol Munns, Mississippi Horizons principal who will serve as Forestview's fifth- and sixth-grade principal next fall. "I think it'll probably take until next week and then it'll be a better picture for me to see how the transportation is doing."
The school is now housing about 570 sixth- through ninth-graders from Mississippi Horizons and about 850 sixth- through seventh-graders from Washington Middle School. The schools will operate as two separate school systems under one roof until next fall, when the building will house about 2,200-2,400 students in grades 5-8.
This year, students in the seventh and eighth grade will complete their school year at Franklin Junior High School. All fifth-grade students this year are completing the school year at their respective elementary schools.
School officials believe parents decided to drive their students to school Tuesday because of the excitement and curiosity surrounding the opening. Many parents also walked their children into the building because the students were nervous about finding their lockers or remembering their locker combinations. While students continue to have the same teachers and classes, it was still like the first day of school.
"I saw a few tears in their eyes," said Munns. "It can be a scary time for kids."
Staff members wore matching Forestview T-shirts to commemorate the first day and an all-school assembly was held Tuesday afternoon in the large gymnasium. Students from each school sat on opposite ends of the gym during the assembly. Then groups of Washington students were told to join with groups of Mississippi students and mingle with their new schoolmates.
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth welcomed students. He noted that they were the first group of students to walk into a new school building since 1968, when Brainerd High School opened.
"Your responsibility is to build the culture of Forestview Middle School," said Walseth. "It is absolutely exciting. ... Your parents and community chose to spend millions and millions of dollars on you. I hope you take care of it."
Most students seemed eager to attend Forestview Tuesday.
"It's really cool because it's something new to get used to," said Destiny Johnson, a seventh-grader.
"The classrooms are really cool," added Sarah Schoutens, also a seventh-grader.
Paige Bach, a sixth-grader, said she had to ask teachers for directions several times because the school is so large compared to Washington. But Bach said she felt happy to be in the first class of students to attend Forestview.
"When my grandchildren come here, I can say I was the first one there," said Bach.
"They're so excited," said Donna Whalen, Washington principal who will serve as Forestview's seventh- and eighth-grade principal. "A little bit of nerves, too. You can feel it with the staff, too."
Paulette Burke, office secretary from Washington, said she twice answered the Forestview main phone line as "Washington Middle School."
"We're getting used to it," said Burke. "The phone is ringing constantly but I think it's going well for the first day."
Whalen said the lunch periods ran smooth. The schools kept the same lunch times they had at Washington and Mississippi. Now Forestview students are offered four lunch lines with separate menus. About 550 students can be fed at one time.
Munns said parents can help alleviate the traffic congestion by parking in the front parking lots at a designated area and have their children meet them there, rather than waiting in the pickup and drop-off area in the circle drive. They also can use alternate routes to the school by using Mountain Ash and Ironwood Drives, rather than the main entrance at Knollwood Drive.
Munns said the school is trying to find ways to expedite student busing, as well. The district is now dropping off Mississippi students at the north bus drop-off and pickup site and then busing Washington students to the south bus drop-off and pickup site. The buses on Tuesday were forced to cross between the parent traffic at the entrance to the visitor parking lots and circle drive, which caused further congestion. Instead, school officials are considering using only one busing site for all students.
Parents were lined up more than 20 minutes before school ended in the circle drive at the front entrance.
Sue Wynn, who lives northeast of Crosby, was picking up her granddaughter, Kaytlyn Wynn, a seventh-grader.
"I didn't know where to come. I figured I'd figure it out," said Wynn, who was unfazed by any potential traffic delays. "This has got to be better than Washington. We're not competing with the buses. This looks much more safe."
"I don't think our kids have a clue the opportunity they have," said Cory Senn, Baxter, who was picking up her seventh-grade son, Tyler. "It's great. I'm sure it will be better as time goes on."
"It's a great school but the road is terrible," said Stephanie Rodman, a rural Brainerd parent who was picking up her son, Garrett, a sixth-grader. "People seem to want to park in the middle and not in the parking lots."
Sherry Wright, Baxter, said she arrived at 7:30 a.m. to make sure her seventh-grade son, Justin, got to school early. She was able to beat much of the traffic leading into the school. She was waiting for Justin in the front entrance after school.
"He was very nervous. He didn't want to eat breakfast," she said. "I'm sure by the end of the day he had a great time. How can you not in a place like this?"
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