December 11, 2012

Cape Hatteras students travel off
island with help from their friends

The damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy and back-to-back northeasters has closed down Highway 12 to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles in a stretch at the S-curves in northern Rodanthe.  The only other access to Hatteras Island is by emergency ferry which takes more than two hours each way.

This has caused a world of trouble for residents, business owners, vendors, and service providers.

Other headaches are not so apparent, but nonetheless significant. For instance, groups of high school students who need to travel for school-related activities have been faced by serious challenges.

The lengthy ferry ride takes a toll on instructional time for teams and groups of students who need to attend athletic and other events.

Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies Principal Jean Taylor and Dare County Schools Transportation Director David Twiddy put their heads together in November in anticipation of winter sports and other events, such as the DECA club's travel to a state conference in early December.

Highway 12 has been open most of the time this month -- but only to four-wheel-drive vehicles. That is not an option for the district's activity buses, which have to use the ferry. 

Twiddy has one four-wheel-drive vehicle. He called the office of Sheriff Doug Doughtie to seek options. With enthusiastic buy-in from Scott and Martha Caldwell of Island Convenience in Rodanthe, Twiddy and Doughtie devised a plan.

Island Convenience is making available its parking lot to buses that bring students to that point, where they are picked up in Twiddy's and the sheriff's office four-wheel-drive vehicles to transport students in a type of four-wheel-drive relay bus.

Once over the four-wheel-only portion of Highway 12, the students load onto other buses that take them to their destination.

It’s not optimal, but it's working.

The first groups to go were basketball teams, cheerleaders, and DECA members on Dec. 4. The hour of departure for the DECA club, en route to Charlotte, would have been unthinkable had it not been for the four-wheel-drive option.

In addition to Island Convenience, Twiddy credits the sheriff's office and willing drivers, including First Flight Middle School Resource Officer Jody Lewis, First Flight High School Athletic Director Ray Scott, and Hatteras bus drivers Billy Rutledge and Kenneth Randall. 

This method will continue to be used to take groups of students back and forth, including taking Manteo and First Flight teams to Hatteras for the Hurricane's home games.

Twiddy has agreed to transport another type of passenger—actually cargo -- later this month if the need is still there. To raise funds for travel expenses, DECA members sold $6,000 of Florida citrus, which Twiddy says his team will transport to keep the club from not only losing its main source of funds but also not to incur any expenses if the club could not take delivery of the fruit. Food for Thought items bound for Hatteras students are going the same way.

The support means a lot to the entire school community, especially to teachers, who are protective of their instructional/classroom time. Extra hours for travel time means instructional time lost. This solution maximizes students' time in class.

Twiddy is elated with the collaboration and the sense of community that it reflects.

"It's for the kids, you know," Twiddy remarked. "That's what it's about. That's why we're here."

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