Back to School: On guard to keep our students safe

MARSHALL – As children return to school this week in Marshall, pedestrian safety once again becomes a real concern in the community.

To assist with some of the high-traffic areas, the City of Marshall and Marshall Public Schools are again partnering to provide adult crossing guard at several intersections.

“Once again, it is time to put pedestrian safety at the forefront of our travels,” district resource officer Sara VanLeeuwe said. “We will see many students walking and biking to and from school. As motor vehicle operators, we need to be extra cautious and alert when driving, especially around the schools.”

A crossing guard, who can be easily identified by his or her bright yellow crossing guard vest and possession of a hand-held stop sign, has the primarily responsibility of helping children get safely across the street in the high-traffic areas.

“The crossing guards will role model and assist with safe crossing practices with the hopes that children develop the skills to cross streets safely at all times,” VanLeeuwe said. “The guards also alert drivers that pedestrians are in the area.”

Drivers who do not respect the crossing guard process can be fined.

“It is a misdemeanor offense for any person to drive a motor vehicle past a crossing guard who is directing the movement of children across the street and holding an official signal in the stop position,” VanLeeuwe said. “Crossing guards are trained to report these violations to the Marshall Police Department for follow up.”

Richard “Dick” Calvin was one of nine crossing guards to attend a training session with Officer VanLeeuwe on Wednesday morning. Cletus Lanners, Betty Smith, Cindy and Denis Mitchell, Arlan Plueger, Marvin Dwire, Raterra Rashana and Kristine Polzin will also be serving as 2014-15 school year crossing guards.

“It’s a service that needs to be done because those kids need help getting a across,” Calvin said. “There’s definitely a need for it and I can’t stand to just sit at home.”

Calvin has subbed in the past, but will serve as a crossing guard fulltime for the first time this year. It’s something he’s very dedicated to doing.

“This is a very committed job, to wake up early in the morning, give a half an hour of your time and then again, in the middle of your day, give a half an hour of your time,” VanLeeuwe said. “They could get other jobs, but they’re choosing to do this one, which says a lot about them. They all have a high level of dedication.”

While the guards do get paid, it’s certainly not the reason they do the job, VanLeeuwe said, especially when it comes to the wintertime, though Calvin was quick to downplay the cold weather.

“If you dress for it, it’s okay,” Calvin said. “The only time it gets really cold is when the wind is blowing 40 miles an hour and it’s 10 below. Then it gets a little tough.”

But the traffic doesn’t stop just because it is winter time, Calvin said, so he is determined to be at his location every day. This past year, there were two accidents at the intersection where he was working.

“It wasn’t from the front car because they stopped just fine,” Calvin said. “But the person coming up behind them, their car slipped into the front car. The second car just didn’t slow down enough.”

Fortunately, no children were involved in the mishaps. VanLeeuwe noted the importance of attentive driving at all times, though, because accidents can happen quickly and to anyone.

“If there are issues, it’s not because of the guards and it’s usually not because of the children,” she said. “It’s because of the drivers not paying enough attention.”

While crossing guards and drivers can do their part, parents are also encouraged to help educate their children as well.

“Children should be taught to be responsible for their own safety prior to being allowed to walk to bike to school,” VanLeeuwe said. “Most children do not understand complex traffic situations; they have a hard time judging speed, distance, reaction time and safety at intersections. Another problem is that kids tend to think that because they can see the car, the car sees them. This is not always the case. So any opportunities spend educating a child on their own safety is time well spent.”

Calvin said he encourages students, most of which are in grades 3-8, to develop good street-crossing habits, but sometimes children try to do their own thing.

“I wish I could get more kids to put one foot down on the ground when they are crossing on bicycles,” he said. “I also wish a few of them wouldn’t go up the sidewalk a ways and then cut across the street. It’s dangerous because some cars just don’t slow down enough.”

The best case scenario is for children to get off of their bikes and walk across the street under the direction of the crossing guard, VanLeeuwe said, and for students on foot to avoid running through the crosswalk as well.

“We don’t know who is coming to and from school every day, so that’s why the parent piece is so important,” she said. “Drivers need to slow down and parents really need to educate the kids.

Together, the community can celebrate no traffic injuries or fatalities to schoolchildren.