RIDGWAY – Ridgway Elementary School Principal Ted Donahue remembers the crossing guards walking him across the street when he was a kid growing up in Glenwood Springs. Volunteer student safety patrols assisting adult crossing guards would usher pedestrians and cyclists across the busiest intersections at the busiest times of day, going to and from school.
“Highway 62 really divides our town in two,” Donahue said this week, as Ridgway’s crossing guard program got underway after months of thought and weeks of training.
With the elementary school a block north of the highway on Amelia Street and a significant number of students coming from the south side of town and Solar Ranch, that intersection was the logical place to start, Donahue said. The guard program had its inauguration Monday, Nov. 26.
It’s been a multi-generational, multi-agency effort, part of Colorado’s Safe Routes to School Program. The idea came originally from third-grade teacher Robyn Cascade, whose impetus was to “get more kids to walk or ride their bikes to school” instead of having their parents drive them. The training and scheduling has been organized by the school’s transportation director, Maggie Graff. Marshall David Scott supplied the Day-Glo vests and hand-held stop signs. And volunteers, both young and old, have signed up to participate.
“As we all know,” said adult volunteer Paula James, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
As far as Marshall Scotty knows, there have been no serious incidents involving students at that well-marked intersection, but he also said, “We try to be a presence at the intersection in the mornings and afternoons when the kids are going to school and traffic is heaviest, going and coming from Telluride. But we can’t always be there.”
He pointed out that during “school zone” hours (approximately 7:30-8:05 a.m. and 3:15-3:45 p.m.) the speed limit at the intersection is 20 mph. “But some cars go through there at 45 mph. We talk to them.”
“One mandatory piece of equipment” for every adult crossing guard, said Graff at a volunteer training two weeks ago, “is a cell phone, in case the marshals can’t be there.”
Third-grade teacher Cascade explained how the program came to her. “Last February I attended the second annual National Green Schools Conference in Denver. They discussed a number of projects I thought might work for our school . . . My goals, in order of importance, were to improve the kids’ health, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to minimize the car congestion here at school. I thought this program [Safe Routes to School] would be the easiest. No!”
It’s been more complicated than anyone thought it would be. The original October start date had to be pushed back. Graff found a training video produced by the American Automobile Club of Michigan. Marshal Scott and Deputies Hunt and FitzGerald were involved. Perhaps the most difficult aspect has been enlisting volunteers.
Two student volunteers from the fifth grade have stepped up. Fifth grade is the top class at the elementary school, before kids move across town to the middle school. Cascade is hopeful about a third potential student volunteer.
Adults who would don the vest and wield the stop sign must jump through a few hoops, courtesy, Graff said, of the new realities facing schools in this heightened-security age. Crossing guards – indeed any volunteer for any school activity – must fill out a multi-page application, have themselves fingerprinted by the Marshal’s Office, have a background check, and pay a $45 application fee. “It’s not like the old days,” Graff admitted.
But the effort is well worth it, said crossing guard Sara Ballantyne, at work on the program’s second full day, Tuesday. Her daughter, Emma, attends the middle school, but Ballantyne, a forceful advocate for biking, felt the need to contribute, to make a difference.
Ridgway is still a small town. The weather is usually beautiful. Now with the guard program, crossing the highway is a walk in the park.
“I don’t care if kids take the bus,” Ballantyne said. “Just don’t drive!”