By Dawn Behrens
I am writing to thank the citizens, families, council members, and members of the planning commission who worked to support keeping vehicular traffic on Spring Street one-way. Specifically, I am referring to the one block of Spring Street that bisects the campus of St. James Church and St. James Catholic School. The proposal to make Spring Street two-way by developers of the Broad Street project, located directly across from the St. James campus, was stricken from the language of the development plan during the November 2 Planning Commission Meeting. It is a testimonial to the fact that when citizens band together in a grass-roots effort, things can get done. Support for this initiative spanned the political spectrum.
There are 450 St. James students who walk across this section of Spring Street every day to attend mass and to access the playground. Opening this street to two-way traffic would present a significant safety hazard to these children. National traffic safety data support that streets converted from one-way to two-way show significant increases in vehicular versus pedestrian accidents. National data shows a 40 – 160 percent increase in these types of accidents for the year following the conversion. In addition to the safety of the students, increasing traffic patterns pose a safety burden on senior parishioners who cross Spring Street to attend church, both on weekends and weekdays.
St. James is much more than just an institution of local historical significance. St. James has been and continues to be an important part of our community. St. James serves the spiritual needs of over 2,400 parishioners, of which 800 are Falls Church City residents. St. James is deeply committed to good works both locally and globally. An example of service in the immediate community includes serving 160 needy families monthly through the food distribution program, supporting the HOPE House, delivering food to the hungry with Meals on Wheels, and providing food and volunteers to the Winter Shelter. St. James is a founding member of Falls Church Community Services Council, providing emergency financial and food assistance to those in need. St. James supports our youth organizations, including over 240 scouts and 200 plus athletes playing CYO sports.
St. James Catholic Church serves the entire Catholic population within its boundaries by providing Parish Religious Education Programs classes to youth that are not enrolled at St. James School. St. James also meets the needs of adults by providing Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. These volunteer run services are held in St. James facilities on a weekly basis. Our conference spaces and social gathering rooms are utilized almost every day by many diverse organizations. For animal lovers, the Church even holds an annual “Blessing of the Pets.”
The two time designation of St. James School as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence reinforces the already excellent reputation of schools within the City. This honor was awarded to only 340 public and 50 private schools in 2014, including St. James. The school’s Terranova scores rank in the 80th percentile. St. James School was rated a Top School in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Talent Search in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Having a religious centered school offers an element of diversity that communities strive to attain. The ethnicity of the student body is also diverse, with 35 percent of students being of Hispanic, Asian, Black or multi-racial descent. Although a private Catholic school, St. James is open to non-parishioners and non-Catholics, and offers need based scholarships.
St. James School itself supports many charitable endeavors and community building events. For example, the school participates in the annual Christmas collection for the Children’s Center at Seven Corners. St. James School serves the community via fellowship activities such as the Annual Bazaar and White Elephant Sale. Anyone can donate items to the White Elephant, and local families benefit by purchasing these items at deeply discounted prices. The bazaar games serve as a fun, community building endeavor for all.
From a financial perspective, St. James School helps alleviate the already significant pressures on the crowded Falls Church City Schools, since the city families who send their children here pay city taxes without further burdening the Falls Church City school system.
The St. James community looks forward to further partnering with our friends and neighbors in the city. We have begun a dialogue with the city on providing much needed space to support the FCC Arts.
Thank you for allowing me to share my perspective as a mom of two young children who attend St. James School, and as a member of the St. James Parish. Thank you again to everyone who worked so hard to keep the safety of our community, particularly our most vulnerable – the young and the old – as your primary focus by keeping Spring Street one-way.