Starting Monday, volunteer crossing guard to again keep students safe near Worthington Middle School
Galen Smith, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, will return to his volunteer duties as a crossing guard Monday morning at the intersection of Oxford Street and Crailsheim Road in Worthington.
WORTHINGTON — If you cross Galen Smith, you’ll probably live to tell about it. In fact, improving safety is the whole point of his work as a volunteer crossing guard at the intersection of Oxford Street and Crailsheim Road.
“It’s something I volunteered to do to help with the students,” Smith said, explaining how he first came to wear the neon yellow vest last year at one of the busiest and most concerning intersections for traffic safety in Worthington.
Due to COVID-19, the school changed its bussing policy last year, hoping to decrease the number of students on busses and thereby reducing virus spread among students sharing a confined space. That meant more students were walking to school, though, and because of the busy intersection’s proximity to WMS, a lot of kids had to use the crosswalk.
And a lot of kids had a hard time getting across the road.
Smith and another community member, Phil Benson, ended up talking to the school about it, and Smith and some WMS paraprofessionals started serving as crossing guards. Most were stationed at the Oxford-Crailsheim intersection, with another guard helping students cross Crailsheim Road farther to the south.
This year, the District 518 Board of Education decided students will not be required to walk to school if they live within a mile of it, so fewer students may end up walking this year, said WMS Principal Jeff Luke.
“People should slow down and look for pedestrians wherever they are, but especially by a school,” Luke said. “... it’s kind of a scary intersection over there.”
Smith’s crossing guard experience
Smith’s experience as a crossing guard predates his time in Worthington.
When he lived in West Union, Iowa, his youngest child began walking to school on her own, and though the family only lived a few blocks from school, a big highway had to be crossed. They had student crossing guards, but the kids weren’t always there, and worse, the traffic didn’t always stop for the little ones trying to get to class on time.
Another parent told Smith she’d seen his daughter nearly get hit by a car, so he and some other parents set up a volunteering system for grown-up crossing guards instead.
“And I ended up doing it 10 or 11 years,” Smith said. “It was a chance to visit with some of the other students, some of the kids in the community — just be out and say 'Hi' to people. I’d wave to the cars going by and the students going by.”
‘Rain or shine or wind or snow’
Starting Monday, Smith will again be at the intersection near the middle school every morning, watching the cars come in from multiple directions, some of them momentarily dazzled by the sun. The intersection has a stop sign, but no traffic lights — apart from flashers telling drivers to stop, which turn on with the press of a button.
“The traffic’s supposed to stop,” Smith said, adding, “And most of the time, they’re really, really good there.”
At least once last year, though, a driver didn’t stop, and Smith stuck his hand out, grabbed an imperiled student and jumped backwards.
“Please reduce your speed; please be very observant, because the car in front of you may decide to stop really quick,” Smith said, offering advice to drivers in the vicinity of the middle school in the morning or afternoon. “Just like we have to watch for the school buses, please be aware and watch for kids.”
Normally, it would be difficult for a driver to avoid seeing Smith. When he’s at his post from 7:20 to 7:45 a.m., he dons a bright yellow vest and wields a hand-held stop sign with flashing lights on it. If it’s raining, he suits up in a banana-colored rain suit; in the cold months, he brings boots, insulated coveralls and hot packs to put in his gloves.
“We appreciate someone like that. I mean, he has experience,” Luke said of Smith’s efforts. “And if people are going by, they should show a bit of appreciation, because those people are out there rain or shine or wind or snow, and it’s not an easy task.”
While there are a few careless drivers, there are also the drivers who stop even before the flashing lights go on, waiting patiently for the kids to cross.
“I really like that, when they do that,” Smith said with a smile.