Oh happy day. For four years I have been waiting to see a crossing guard on Elizabeth Avenue at Rennies River Elementary in St. John’s. Today, a freshly appointed crossing guard should be on the job.
Back in 2007, when my daughter started Grade 4 and my son Grade 5, I was up in arms over the lack of crossing guard at the school. On our practice walk to school that August, my daughter and I witnessed a near-miss car accident as we attempted to cross at the crosswalk. While the car in the lane closest to us stopped, a speeding car on the other side decided to stop at the last minute, not providing enough time for the tail-gating car behind to stop. The car behind thus screeched and swerved out into the other lane to avoid hitting the first car.
The problem was, we had already stepped out into the road when the first two cars stopped and the third car could have hit us.
The whole purpose of the practice walk was to give my daughter the confidence to walk to school on her own and to show her she would be safe. I quickly realized she was far from safe. Later, I witnessed two accidents at this crosswalk.
The principal of the school directed me to the city, saying schools do not staff crosswalks. The city told me it was difficult to recruit crossing guards. Once I investigated, I realized why.
Successful applicants would be paid, at that time, $9.44/hour for a job that would bring them out of their homes twice a day for an hour each time. They would be confronted by irate drivers in a hurry to get to work or elsewhere, and they’d have to bundle up and go outside in sideways snow and driving rain.
No wonder potential applicants weren’t chomping at the bit.
I proposed that nearby Gonzaga High School students, all of whom need 30 volunteer hours to graduate, take turns manning the crosswalk. In teams of two, they could complete their volunteer hours and then pass the hand-held stop sign on to the next couple of students.
I figured this would do away with the need for paid guards and save the city money.
Liability issues quashed that idea.
Then I had what I thought was another great idea. The Association of New Canadians holds classes in the old St. Pius X school right behind the crosswalk. I figured if these new citizens are already on site and were perhaps anxious to earn a bit of cash, they might be interested in the job. But alas, in order to apply for the job you have to be a Canadian citizen and possess a valid driver’s licence, have a wellness check and a certificate of conduct from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.
Jay, a neighbour whose son is set to begin kindergarten in 2012, suggested the police monitor crosswalks in the mornings, issuing tickets. I told him they don’t have the resources to watch crosswalks every day.
He argued they wouldn’t need to be there all the time.
“Once word gets out, motorists will think twice about running crosswalks. … It’s almost like stopping at pedestrian crossings is an option here. We all miss one sometimes; it’s the nature of driving. But here there’s a general lack of driver discipline.”
My two middle children, who were at Rennies River in 2007, are now at Macdonald Drive Junior High, which — traffic-wise — is a ticking time bomb. Not on Toronto Street, where a crossing guard should be on duty today, but on Macdonald Drive, where a button-operated traffic signal crosswalk is routinely ignored by students. No matter how many times teachers beg them not to cross the four-lane thoroughfare in traffic, they continue to do so, risking their own lives as well as those of drivers.
Last week, I went to observe to see if the situation had changed any. I witnessed dozens of students making a game of running through the cars instead of waiting at the light.
If you’ve been following city council news, you’ll know the city asked the province to cost share the crossing guards. The province declined.
I called city hall to see if there was any news and was thrilled to learn four new crossing guards are being trained and should be in position today. Four schools, however, remain guardless. The salary has increased somewhat since 2007 sitting — now paying between $11 and $13 an hour.
That’s a good thing, but it’s still not enough to recruit workers. Would you stand in the middle of a sleet storm for an hour in the afternoon when you could be home in your cosy den reading a book? I’m sure there’d be days in the winter when workers would pay $13 an hour to not be there.
So, what is it going to take to get the province to top up the crossing guard program?
I can only think it’ll take a death.
Susan Flanagan is a journalist and mother of five in St. John’s. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in becoming a
crossing guard, call the City of St. John’s at 311, fax 576-8575 or email email@example.com
Thanks, everyone, for your overwhelmingly positive feedback on last week’s all-day kindergarten column.
Kitty from Conception Bay South, a former kindergarten teacher, writes:
“Ontario and B.C. both offer either junior kindergarten or structured kindergarten readiness programs for both three and four-year-olds. … These programs are not day care, or custodial care, but actual programs designed and created to prepare a child for their introduction into school. Most of these programs are subsidized by the government for families who simple cannot swing another bill.
“While in Newfoundland and Labrador the title preschool is included under the Child Care Services Act, there is actually nothing in place for a four-year-old’s transition into kindergarten, let alone full-day kindergarten. In Newfoundland and Labrador, preschool and day care are one (and) the same, unless, of course, you are one of the fortunate parents who can afford to pay for an educational private preschool.
“We need something in place so our four-year-olds can transition more smoothly into what will hopefully be a play-based, full-day kindergarten program. This is essential for both the child and the educator.
“Convenience and economics should not be the only deciding factor with this issue. We need to take a good hard look at what is being offered to our prekindergarten children in this province.”
Barbara, the mother of three grown sons, has eight grandchildren, ages 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, and 16. She writes:
“The three younger ones live and go to school in Nova Scotia. They each attended two mornings a week of private pre-school during the year prior to their kindergarten enrolment. The four-year-old started full-day kindergarten this year. He won’t be five until December. These three younger grandkids are well and away when it comes to academic standing. I visit the family in N.S. several times throughout the year and am amazed at the level of learning they have accomplished, their reading skills, printing, math comprehension, etc.
See MORE, page B2
“I think it is ludicrous when I hear ‘pilot projects’ being ‘considered’ for N.L. The academic and social benefits of full-day kindergarten — sharing, listening, absorption of knowledge — by three and four-year-olds have been demonstrated and proven within our own country and beyond. There’s no need to study this further. Full-day kindergarten is essential. Introduce it for our little ones without delay.”
Paula, whose daughter will start kindergarten in 2013, wants to see changes to the Kinderstart (pre-school) program in place for pre-K children.
“Based on my own observations I think that program does not prepare children to properly enter the school system. In our own school district, Kinderstart meets once a month for approximately two hours. The teacher sends home a bag of homework and parents are left to essentially home school their four-year-olds until (the) next year, when (kindergarten) starts.
“Perhaps an alternative to all-day K is to revamp the Kinderstart program. Unless that is done, I feel we need an all-day K to allow our kids to be on par with other Canadian children. I know in Alberta my friend’s child had a three half-day a week pre-school program that better prepared her to enter school.”
Katherine, a full-time working owner of a steadily growing business, and a wife and mother of three young children, writes:
“I can totally commiserate, I was unable to take maternity leave (with) my first two children as I was just getting started in business. And as a working mom I find myself continually grumbling about the school system and how it does not seem to factor in two working parents. P.S. Don’t get me started on (professional development) days. Hope you throw the book at (the Eastern School District) for that one.”
Rosalind, a working mother of two, writes this of when her first son was to enter kindergarten.
“Around the same time came the invention of the universal child care benefit. We were informed by the centre that due to the introduction of this benefit the rates at the centre would be affected. Along with the rate increase … came kindergarten transportation fees …
“When our second son was born we weighed the option of private home infant care versus a daycare centre. We feel very blessed in finding a private care home that we are very comfortable with; it’s the perfect place for him. …
“Although he is only three, we have to prepare for kindergarten. Many of the at-home child care providers cannot accommodate the demanding kindergarten schedule. …
“So, now it is decision time once again. Do we move him soon, before kindergarten? Away from the only child-care provider he has ever had and loves dearly? Do we move him into a strange new place in time for kindergarten where he will be forced to adjust to new people and routines, right before he has to adjust to new children, teachers and routines of kindergarten? It is a big decision, …
“Having now experienced both preschool child care situations, I feel he will be prepared for kindergarten either way. Having full-day kindergarten will eliminate the need to move these children and disrupt their lives.”