There are few images as quintessential as school crossing guards — the slightly older and gawky kids dressed in their reflective gear with stop signs on sticks. Pass any school and you’ll see them, uniformed and proud, sporting that focused edginess that comes with responsibility and authority, helping younger elementary school students across the street and onto the school grounds.
100 years of gawky service
AAA Washington is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its AAA School Safety Patrol Program this year, a program that has been a rite of passage for thousands of students in Washington state. Established in 1922 at John Muir Elementary in Seattle, the program trains and supports students in 4th through 8th grades as crossing guards charged with keeping young pedestrians safe. It’s also the first step toward a lifetime of leadership for some. More than 750 schools across Washington participate in the program each year, with more than 20,000 student members helping to protect their fellow classmates.
A who’s who of crossing guards
The program has an impressive alumni list that includes three former presidents, astronauts, Olympic athletes, Washington’s superintendent of public instruction, Chris Reykdal, and even AAA Washington’s own CEO, Heather Snavely.
Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal says his favorite memories of patrol are the “rainy, cold mornings and being a little late to class when we got assigned to a crossing area far from my elementary school.
“It gave me a genuine sense of responsibility and service to my fellow classmates,” says Reykdal.
Heather Snavely, president and CEO of AAA Washington, cherishes the memories of her time as a school crossing guard:
“I don’t know if this is a common practice, but at the end of our ‘shift’ we would shout ‘signing off’ to alert the other patrols that we were leaving our post. Man, I loved that!”
Kensei Up, age 10 and on patrol at Hazel Wolf K-8, reports that the guards at their school continue the long crossing guard tradition of shouting directions to each other and walkers.
“My best memory so far is being the captain for the first time,” Kensei says. “I yelled out ‘Let’s cross!’ and ‘Back in!’”
A big responsibility
Students take on a big responsibility when they commit to volunteering as crossing guards. They have to cover a regular shift, learn basic traffic safety rules and guide their peers across streets while also correcting unsafe behavior. A lot of students take on this role for several years, moving up the ranks to train new patrollers and suggest ways to improve safety at their school.
“I was a noon patrol for the kindergartners,” says Snavely. “Do you know how much joy there is at the end of the day when kids are walking home?
“I enjoyed being part of that ritual and the chance to help protect my classmates. Plus, at the end of the year we all got to go to Valley Fair, a regional Six Flags-like amusement park. Who could pass that up?”
Reducing pedestrian death and injury
The AAA School Safety Patrol Program is not just about fun and leadership opportunities but has also made a measurable difference in school safety. The program has contributed to a steady decline in student pedestrian deaths in the U.S. over the last decade. The country has seen a 24% decrease in deaths of walkers ages 5 to 14 since 2010, according to data collected by AAA of Washington.
Student Nicolas Puma, 10, has only been a crossing guard at Louisa Boren STEM in West Seattle for a few weeks. Still, he already feels the responsibility of leadership growing in him.
“It makes me feel like I’m able to take kids where they need to go and now I have a little bit more responsibility,” says Puma. “It’s really fun because all of the kids I help are really nice, and one kid even gave me a drawing he made.”
Echo Lake Elementary crossing guard Verona Fox Lagula, 10, says she believes that being on patrol at her Shoreline school is not only helping others but preparing her for the more rigorous academic and social climate ahead.
Preparation and service
“I think it will prepare me for middle school,” says Verona. “When I do leave, I think patrol will stay in my heart as a reminder to be kind, give second chances, learn from your mistakes and be a leader, someone who can stand up for themselves and others and show love to anyone you meet.”
Winter H. Lanser and Ella Eun, who are both 10 and on the patrol at Echo Lake say giving back to the community is an important value for them.
“I wanted to be in the School Safety Patrol program because I really like helping people,” says Winter. Likewise, Ella adds: “I wanted to help others, serve my community and work with other students on patrol.”
How drivers can keep young walkers safe
- Slow down. Follow those 20-mph school-zone speed limits.
- Make room for bicycles. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing space between your vehicle and a bike. More at ShareTheRoad.AAA.com.
- Eliminate distractions. Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the chance of being involved in a crash.
- Review local school bus laws. In Washington, all drivers traveling in the same direction as a school bus must stop when the stop sign “paddle” extends and red lights are flashing. On a two-lane road, drivers traveling opposite to the bus must also stop. Three lanes or more, including a center turning lane? Drivers traveling in the opposite direction of the bus may proceed with caution.
- Stay alert in crossing zones. Be mindful of the thousands of Washington AAA School Safety Patrollers volunteering near crossing zones. Make eye contact with them to ensure maximum safety.
Walker safety tips
AAA suggests parents and caregivers map out the safest route to school for their young pedestrian(s), then walk it together to pick the best intersections for crossings and become familiar with the daily trek. AAA encourages parents to give kids the following instructions:
- Walk on sidewalks. Look for cars pulling into and backing out of driveways.
- If no sidewalk exists, walk on the left side of the road — facing traffic.
- Cross at intersections with a traffic light or marked crosswalk.
- Watch for turning cars. That includes looking back over your shoulder.
- Never cross between parked cars.
- Be especially alert in bad weather. Drivers may be unable to stop quickly in rain, snow or fog.
- Obey police officers, adult crossing guards and AAA School Safety Patrollers.
- Play away from traffic. Stay in playgrounds, schoolyards and your own backyard.
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