Students arrived at Forest Park High School on Thursday morning by every sort of conveyance — school buses, bicycles, rollerblades, longboards, wagons, a shopping cart, and lots and lots of feet.
What was less common than usual was cars.
In a show of environmental awareness, a group of about 60 students at the Woodbridge high school mounted a campaign to convince their fellow students not to drive to school for the day. They plastered the hallways with posters, offered raffle tickets and rubber bracelets to non-drivers, and lined up to loudly greet every student who showed up at school, weary and wet from the drizzly morning but proud to be entering the parking lot on their own two feet.
“People just don’t think it’s cool to ride the bus, so they don’t even think of it as an option,” said Ashley Doyle, a senior who helped lead the program. On Thursday, they left the cars at home but still figured out cool ways to get to school.
Doyle and some friends slept over at the home of a friend who lives within 10 minutes’ walking distance of the high school. They paraded to school in the morning, dragging each other in kiddy wagons.
Justice Lewis and Markus Brown traded their five-minute morning drive for a 30-minute longboard ride, navigating the rain-slicked streets on a sturdier version of a skateboard.
“It was kind of dangerous, just because it was slippery. We almost went over. But hey, it’s for Mother Earth,” Lewis said.
The students organized the no-driving day in lieu of taking a final exam in Shannon Garrity’s Advanced Placement government classes.
They held a bake sale and drummed up donations from local businesses. At first, their fundraising went toward making the students’ car-less entrance to school more fun on Thursday morning. They bought a helium tank so they could blow up green balloons.
Then Brandon Bryan, a 16-year-old student at the high school, died unexpectedly the week before the event, giving their fundraising a somber new purpose. They donated the $80 remaining from their bake sale to help pay for a plaque at his grave.
The atmosphere was mostly festive as students arrived on Thursday morning, greeted by cheers and high-fives from the AP government students and pop music blasting from speakers. But many also paused in front of a memorial poster for Bryan.
“He was kind of a shining star,” Bryan’s teacher Maryann O’Brien said about him. She said that he suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy and died of a blood clot in his lung. “He was very compassionate. When something was going on with one of his classmates, he was always the first to say ‘How can I help?’”
Garrity said that a school staff member took a photograph of the parking lot on the day before the event as well as on the no-driving day, so that students could measure the effect of their campaign. She and her students counted a 58 percent reduction in the number of cars in the lot.
Some students parked at the Food Lion around the corner, in order to drive to school but still keep their cars out of the school lot.
But Chris Hardeman made the journey entirely on foot. The senior left his home in Dumfries at 4:30 a.m. and was the first one at school, an hour and a half later. “I like the environment, and it’s green day, so I might as well walk,” he said. “It makes me feel like I should walk to school all the time.”
Of course, Thursday was his second-to-last day of high school classes, so he won’t have to walk there for long.