- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

At one time, safety patrols helped youngsters get from one side of the street to the other. Their jobs have changed over the years, however.
Now, safety patrols not only keep an eye out for oncoming cars they've got to keep an eye out for those who try to prey on children on their way home from school.
That was the case in March when Greg Whitaker, a safety patrol captain who attends Fairhill Elementary School in Fairfax County took charge when a stranger in a van approached a little boy headed home from school. Greg, 11, said the questions seemed too personal. and he jumped in immediately. It was obvious to Greg the little boy didn't know the man.
"[The stranger] asked his name, his age and how much he weighed," Greg said.
As soon as the man asked the youngster where he lived, Greg said in a loud voice, "We need to go home." He took the first grader's hand and escorted him to his front door. Before the van pulled off, Greg memorized the license plate number of the van, a description of the vehicle and the characteristics of the driver.
Greg later learned there was a warrant out for the man's arrest. His quick thinking and protective actions saved both hinself and the first grader from the clutches of a wanted felon and earned the boy an annual AAA award.
Yesterday, Greg and Ernesto Navarrete, 11, a safety patrol member who attends Weems Elementary School in Manassas, Va., led the annual AAA Safety Patrol Parade down Constitution Avenue in Northwest. Greg and Ernesto were among six students who received the 2002 AAA Lifesaving Award for their foresight and courage.
The students served as the parade's grand marshals. They watched from the reviewing stand at 16th Street and Constitution Avenue while 3,000 young people from the District, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina strutted down the avenue as part of the School Safety Patrol Parade.
The two-hour event was sponsored by AAA, the Metropolitan Police Department and the National Park Service, National Capital Area.
"The parade is great, but I still wish [the incident with the little boy] never happened. And, I never expected this to happen to me. Now, I pay much more attention to everything going on around me," Greg said yesterday.
His role as one of four captains of the Safety Patrol at his school is very important to him for a number of reasons.
"I like helping people, and I've always looked up to patrols and I always wanted to be one," he said with a smile.
Norman Grimm Jr., director of Driver & Traffic Safety Services for the AAA Mid-Atlantic Region, was on hand enjoying the sunny day and the 52 elementary school patrol units who were accompanied by the bands, cheerleaders, majorettes and flag teams as they entertained passers-by.
"At one time, safety patrols were on street corners helping smaller children get to school safely. They're doing so much more today the traffic volume is greater, schools are larger and they're also at bus stops and [physically] on the buses. They really are a great help in promoting traffic safety," Mr. Grimm said.
The national school safety patrol movement was started by AAA in 1920, with elementary school students, wearing the familiar John Brown belts, directing their fellow students across the streets on their way to and from school. Today, the AAA safety patrol is an organization of 500,000 boys and girls in 50,000 schools nationwide.
Ernesto Navarrete received the Lifesavers Award from AAA for saving the life of a fellow safety patrol member on Sept. 20. The fifth-grader was on duty at the Weems Elementary bus circle with six other patrols and a teacher.
A driver of a pickup truck parked near the bus circle returned to his truck and started to back up without warning. No one could hear the truck's engine over the noise of the children and the buses. During his scan of the area, Ernesto saw the truck backing up toward a fellow patrol who had her back to the truck. He yelled out in time for the girl to jump out of the way.
"I feel excited I got to ride in a red Mustang [in the parade] and I had an opportunity to speak from podium about the police and firefighters who helped on September 11 and how proud I am of them," he said.
After the parade, the grand marshals and others got to spend some time at ESPN Zone, where they were looking forward to watching sports on large-screen TVs, playing games and chowing down.

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