- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. (AP) - Debbie Tanner Martin gets yelled at, cussed at and nearly run over by impatient drivers on a weekly basis - but she loves her job and the people she serves.

On a rainy Monday morning, Martin’s mood is as bright as her yellow rain jacket or the red octagon sign she holds up at the intersection of East Pine Log Road and South Aiken Boulevard.

“Y’all have a good day,” she says with a smile to students crossing South Aiken Boulevard to get to Kennedy Middle.

Martin is one of three crossing guards who work with the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

During the morning commute, all three guards are at the intersection of East Pine Log and South Aiken Boulevard, a busy junction with an elementary, middle and high school on top of it. In the afternoons, the crossing guards split up between that intersection and Huntsman Drive, to handle the outflow of traffic from Aiken Elementary.

JoAnne Gagnon arrives at Kennedy Middle just before 7 a.m. each day to turn on the flashing school zone signals. She said the students start trickling across the street at about 7:20 a.m., but the traffic congestion gets worse at about 7:45. They’re typically leaving by 8:15 a.m.

“We’ve got one we wait on. He’s the closest to school and he’s always the last one out,” she said with a laugh.

Before donning the yellow vest, crossing guards are first trained by Aiken Public Safety officers on basic traffic direction and how to operate the traffic signal, according to Sgt. Celeina Dobbs.

Mornings are typically busier than afternoons for traffic. Gagnon said they recognize that people are in a hurry in the mornings, and they try not to hold up traffic unnecessarily.

Often, motorists get impatient with the crossing guards.

“I get sworn at, I get yelled at,” Gagnon said. “Some have told us that we don’t know how to do our jobs.

“We have a lot of good people, too,” she added.

Some of their favorite people are the children.

“A lot of them come here and they don’t look very happy,” Martin said. “We try to get them to smile.”

Gagnon recalled a brother and sister who always walked to school together, but one day the boy was walking alone and crying.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I asked him if he was all right, and he said yes. But I let him know we’re gonna think of him and that he’ll get through the day. … It’s just a matter of seconds, but every day, there’s something.”

Gagnon and Martin hear what motorists say to them, now they want motorists to hear what they have to say - mainly: Slow down and pay attention.

Rather than pull into the drop-off lane and drop their children off at school, some parents stop at the intersection of East Pine Log and South Aiken Boulevard and let their children out there to cross the street.

“Somebody could come behind you, hit you and then you run over your kid,” Martin said. Parking on a crosswalk can also land a violator with a fine.

Texting while driving is a problem among many parents dropping their children off, but the crossing guards said one of the biggest concerns is people watching the traffic signal rather than them. Martin recalled standing in the intersection while children crossed, and a motorist trying to go through. The motorist pointed to the green light overhead.

“She said, ‘It’s green, it’s green.’ I said, ‘No, red trumps green every time,’” Martin said, flashing the stop sign up. “She’s sitting there, then I turn around and her bumper is pressed against my legs.”

Keeping motorists like that at bay is what Gagnon and Martin do in order to make sure children get safely to school and home.

“I love doing it because I love the kids,” Martin said. “Our focus is on the kids getting safely to school and home, even if I have to step out in front of a car.”


Information from: Aiken Standard, https://www.aikenstandard.com

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