FLORENCE, S.C. – A cartoon floating around Facebook imagines what urban public space would look like if all of the streets and cars disappeared. Deep valleys take their place, effectively cutting off one side of a street from another.
Roads and vehicles aren’t going anywhere, of course, but flat streets can be as dangerous to navigate as those cartoon valleys.
That’s where crossing guards come in. They’re invaluable on many street corners, especially around schools. Their presence is expected but seldom recognized. That changes this week, though: South Carolina Safe Routes to School is sponsoring the state’s inaugural Crossing Guard Appreciation Week.
“Crossing guards are invaluable to our schools and communities, because they have responsibilities that directly impact the well-being of our students here in Florence School District 1,” said Pam Little-McDaniel, the director of public information for the school district. “We appreciate the services of our crossing guards, because they help to ensure that our students cross the streets safely to and from school each morning and each afternoon.”
Whistle and stop sign in hand, Ira Slater manned the corner of West Vista and North Irby streets Wednesday afternoon, adjacent to the newly-built North Vista Elementary School.
First, Slater helped a convoy of buses turn onto the busy North Irby Street. He said the drivers had a harder job.
“I know it’s a handful with kids on the bus,” he said.
Next, Slater helped a steady stream of schoolchildren and parents cross Irby. One child, pencil in hand, looked at a textbook and homework sheet as he crossed the street.
“Everybody’s in a hurry,” Slater said. “We get a line of traffic sometime. You just try to keep it moving as much as possible.”
He’s in his second season as a crossing guard and only heard about the appreciation week the day before.
“I could care less, per se, as far as recognition, but it’s just nice to let people know what’s going on out here,” he said. “They’re trying to help kids get across the street. And just be aware, just give them a second or two. They’ll get you where you’re going.”
Crossing guards at their post have as much authority as a police officer in the same place. Things go smoothly when people listen to crossing guards, Slater said.
“They kind of have a system, how they work things, and it works out for everybody if everybody kind of goes along with the program,” he said.
Roy Miller, another crossing guard, was posted Tuesday afternoon at Royall Elementary School.
“We do three hours a day,” he said. “Hour and a half in the morning, hour and a half in the afternoon.”
He was responsible for an intersection with vehicles approaching from a variety of directions.
“You ’ve got to be quick,” he said.
His post puts him close to his grandchildren, who go to Royall.
“I pick them up after school, so I’m here anyway,” he said.
There are no fair-weather crossing guards, of course.
“You have to be able to stand in the cold and the rain and the heat,” Miller said.
But there’s an upside to foul weather, Slater said. Schoolchildren are less likely to horse around.
“The weather that I hate, they hate it , too, so they go pretty quick,” he said.