It was cold, drizzling and very dark - the sun would not officially rise for another 20 minutes. But this gaggle of children, happily assembled and warmly dressed, was ready to go.

They were 1.1 miles from their Joe Pye Elementary School and they would do something none of them ever do - walk to school.

It was an impressive sight, for sure. Sixty or so first- to fifth-graders, walking the Patriot Boulevard sidewalks, some skipping, some prancing, many holding hands, all making their way in the darkness to one of the state's best elementary schools. The rain and chill could not ruin their "National Walk to School" project.

The children followed a quick-stepping Fort Dorchester High School ROTC color guard. A North Charleston police squad blocked the intersections and a fire engine flanked their path, moving at their steady pace and slowing the surprisingly patient commuter traffic.

This was a big deal for these children and a reminder for many of us of those good old days when we walked to school routinely, rain or shine. (And, yes, my dear sons, it was uphill both ways.)

And we should - if we could - return to those sanguine days of children walking and biking safely to school and to the playground and to the corner store. It would be a good thing for students' physical fitness, build their confidence on public streets and provide another venue for social-growth communications. The problem is that we don't plan schools these days for walkers and bikers; ditto for playgrounds; and as for the "corner" store, well it's now typically a super store open on a busy super highway.

"Neighborhood" schools tend to get lost in the planning mindsets of sprawl and modernity, which transform so much of what made our good old days pretty darn good. The total rites-of-passage experiences of public schools - walking and biking and shooting marbles along the way - should be at the top of what-we-miss-most list.

But there was another takeaway impression last Wednesday on Patriot Drive. Walking with those 60 children were 50 or so adults - the teachers and the parents who created the experience. It was just nice to see the moms and dads and grandparents, representing a diversity of race and ethnicity, up very early on such a cold and dreary morning, tending to the priorities in their lives - those 60 little children.

And one day those children might recall the experience as symbolism of just how fortunate they are: Teachers who care about them, moms and dads and grandparents who care about them, policemen and firemen protecting them. And in time, they will realize they were walking to a nice new school that already has a notable academic achievement record, thanks in no small part to their parents and grandparents who somehow made them important in their lives.

Distill it, compute it, turn it inside-out or upside down - success at Joe Pye Elementary School or any other high performing school is as related to the quality of parental involvement and support as it is to excellent teachers and a technology-cloaked school campus. But we know that, right?

Study after study, year after year, the reality has been documented. Parenting keys success and failure of schools, public and private - and of students.

A 1997 Gallup poll and study determined that "... 86 per cent of the general public believed that support from parents is the most important way to improve the schools." A more recent update determined that view remains constant. So the sunrise walk down Patriot Boulevard last Wednesday highlighted what makes a good school tick - good teachers, eager students and parents who make the school and each's child's education a priority.

At Joe Pye Elementary, we see clearly the values of the parent-teacher-student teamwork - and we lament that not all schools are so blessed.

Kids don't walk or bike much anymore, and too many parents are absent in too many children's lives. Too many children don't know their parents. Too many parents simply don't get the parenting proposition.

Too many children are parents. Too many social issues. Too few answers.

But at Joe Pye Elementary and every other school where parenting is making a difference, may it always be acknowledged and celebrated.

One father walked with his little girl right to the school door.

He kneeled over, gave her a hug and said softly, "Have a good day, sweetheart."

"I love you, Daddy," the little first-grader declared as she skipped away. It was a genuine exchange between a little girl going to school and her father now on his way to work.

The father turned to walk away. He seemed to wipe a tear.

"That's what it's all about," he said quietly. "That's what it's all about."

That is precisely what it's all about!

Ron Brinson, a North Charleston city councilman, is a former associate editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at