Eastern Wake: Opinion

Column: Take care at your school crossing

By Johnny Whitfield

Johnny Whitfield
Johnny Whitfield ehyman@newsobserver.com

Chances are, you see them everyday. You may not even notice them unless you’re first in a line of cars they stop.

But school crossing guards are a common sight in our area. Typically, attached to a police department, the guards are sometimes sworn officers, other times, part-time civilians who are willing to step out into a roadway full of cars to let small children cross the street before and after school.

One crossing guard suggested I ought to give it a try just to get a taste of what it’s like. So I did.

A couple weeks ago, I spent a morning with Garner resident Christabel Rogers. She’s the crossing guard on Aversboro Road in front of Aversboro Road Elementary School. Last week, I spent some time with Sgt. Jason Bridges on crossing guard duty along Shepard School Road in front of Zebulon Middle School.

The experiences were both quite different, but I had some similiar feelings each time I stepped out into a lane of traffic to stop the cars as children were waiting to cross. It was a mixed sensation of fear and excitement. Standing in the roadway with all the cars stopped and children crossing the street was a very empowering thing.

In Zebulon, Bridges parks his car in the center turn lane and turns his blue lights on. That act alone made pretty much every car that came by slow way down even if Bridges didn’t hold his hand up for them to stop.

In Garner, Rogers – several moms affectionately called her Ms. Chris – has a bent-up hand-held stop sign. She has a very particular process she follows when she steps out into traffic on a busy Aversboro Road. First, she holds the sign out into the roadway and waves it so oncoming cars will see it. When she sees that they are slowing down, she cautiously steps out into the street to stop cars coming from the other directions. When cars in both directions have stopped, she waves the children across the street.

Both Rogers and Bridges say they sometimes see cars run through the intersections or slam on brakes when they don’t see the stop command quickly enough.

In Zebulon, the duty is pretty light, especially when nearby East Wake Academy is tracked out, as it was the day I visited. The entire exercise probably lasted no more than 10 minutes. Bridges wears a flourescent green vest. He gave me one to wear, too, which made me feel very official. Unlike my visit with Rogers, we just used our hands to stop the cars when a child wanted to cross.

The driveway leading out of Zebulon Middle School is quite wide, so cars approaching the school from the south have to stop quite a long way away from the crossing guard. I worried that not having a stop sign might make it hard for drivers to see that they were supposed to stop. Apparently, though, the flashing blue lights and the bright green vests were satisfactory.

In Garner, I stood on the sidewalk with Rogers a few minutes before her shift was about to begin when a student walked up to her with her stop sign in hand. Rogers had left it in her vehicle because she wasn’t ready to go to work, but I thought it was cute that the students noticed that she didn’t have her stop sign with her and that they knew where to get it.

Both Rogers and Bridges know who their customers are, generally speaking. Bridges says he generally has two or three students want to cross the street each afternoon. We had three that day. Rogers expects about 20 each morning and she pointed out to me that they come in clusters – except for the last three students who arrive together about five minutes before school begins each morning.

Sure enough, about 9:10, up walked the three students from the direction in which she said they would come.

Rogers and Bridges both say they enjoy the crossing guard duty, but it was easy to tell they were also serious about what they were doing. Being responsible for others’ lives and safety will do that to you. It certainly made me stay on my p’s and q’s.