• Kids head to their parents' cars during parent pickup at Munford Elementary School. Photo by Jeff Ireland

Ever wondered how in the world school employees manage to get hundreds of students into the correct cars every day?

Whether you have or not, you’re about to find out.

I decided to spend a Monday afternoon at Munford Elementary School, the largest elementary school in Tipton County, and see how parent pickup works.

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Controlled chaos is probably the best way to describe it.

At 2:28, Zach Lowery, a physical education teacher and the unofficial ringleader of the proceedings, walks out to the driveway on the south side of the school. He moves a couple of cones out of the way and about 35 cars, most of which have been in line for about 15 minutes, slowly drive up the hill.

Lowery, armed with a microphone, pen and pad, puts his eyes on the cars and begins calling out names. Angie Gover, another P.E. teacher, stands at the door as Lowery’s voice comes through a speaker inside the school.

Most of the cars have tags hanging on their rearview mirrors that have the names of the kid or kids they are picking up written on them, but Lowery doesn’t really need that information.

He knows just about everybody, by face or car, and calls out the child’s name as they drive by.

About 200 cars come through every day and many kids have different people picking them up on various days, meaning there could be close to 500 faces and cars to know. Not to mention there are custody arrangements to keep in mind.

How does he remember all this?

“It’s just repetition,” Lowery, who has been serving in this role for three years, says with a shrug. “I learn a lot of cars, but you have to look at the face.”

Questions do arise. Lowery takes notes and asks Gover and others to check on certain things, but, for the most part, he knows what child goes in which car.

At 2:31 the cars stop and kids begin walking to the appropriate cars.

As the children get buckled in, P.E. teacher Chebria Berry walks out to McLaughlin Drive and begins dancing. There’s no music, but Foster doesn’t care. She directs traffic and dances.

Why does she dance?

“I just love to see everybody leave with a smile,” she says.

Is there a particular song in her head?

“Sometimes,” she says with a laugh. “I just bring what I feel.”

At 2:43 another batch of 35 or so cars drives up the hill and the process starts over. Lowery calls out names, Gover and about nine other teachers get children inside the building organized and Foster dances.

This time things go faster and by 2:49 a third batch of cars is stopped and ready to load up children.

There’s quite a bit going on inside the building as well. A group of kids who have not been picked up yet watches a movie, while others wait in the gym.

Parent pickup ends at 3:15 every day. There are usually one or two children still remaining and calls have to be made, but not on this sunny Monday afternoon.

At 3:07, with no more cars in line, Lowery leans inside the door and asks, “Is that everybody?”

“Yes,” says assistant principal Jill Johnston. “I think that might be a record.”

Everybody seems to breathe a sigh of relief. There were very few hiccups today, which everyone says is rare.

On days when Lowery isn’t at school, Gover takes over his role. Since she rarely does that, it’s difficult.

“When you have to do somebody else’s job, it makes you appreciate what everybody does,” Gover says. “We’re all pieces to the puzzle.”

Lowery heads into the gym and gets ready to go home. He smiles and gives lots of thumbs ups and waves when he’s outside, but now he seems relieved another day is in the books.

He clearly takes the responsibility of getting students in the correct cars very seriously. If he doesn’t know you, be prepared to show some identification.

“It’s stressful,” he says. “We just have to make sure they go home with the right person.”