They’ve been cursed at, honked at, glared at, flipped off, and flat-out ignored in spite of their much-needed services in various locations throughout Oakdale — they’re the city’s crossing guards and they’re doing their part to protect the city’s children.
They might just be the bravest people in Oakdale when you consider how many pedestrian vs. vehicle accidents there are in the city each year.
And as much as drivers might hate the inconvenience of stopping on their early morning or afternoon rush, the kids who cross with the help of the crossing guards, are thankful for the assistance.
In fact, hugs and big smiles are the norm for Sheri Pridemore and Gwen Lovett, the two ladies who are currently stationed at Lee Avenue and West F Street, one of the busier crossing stations in the city.
Pridemore has been working as a crossing guard for four years; Lovett, for five.
“We cross anywhere between 50 to 90 kids every day,” Lovett said.
The busy highway is a major thoroughfare to the heart of Oakdale and the wind created by passing motorists is enough to lift your hair.
Contrary to the posted sign that suggests that area is a school zone with a 25 mph speed limit, according to police, that is an incorrect assumption.
“That is not a designated school zone because it does not affect the speed limit,” Oakdale Police Department Traffic Officer Daniel Peters said. “The speed limit is 35 mph and after the sign, it is 40 mph. The sign is only to alert drivers that there are children in the area.”
Sign or not, blinking crossing lights and stop sign raised, some people have ignored the crossing guard and driven through the crosswalk, endangering the children and the crossing guard with their reckless behavior.
And it’s scary, said Pridemore.
“It’s worse down here than at West F Street and Mann Avenue,” Pridemore said. “People are blowing through the crosswalk and it’s definitely worse in the morning.”
Lovett agreed saying, “A lot of these people just don’t want to stop.”
Pridemore experienced a close call when she was stationed at the West F Street and Mann crosswalk, saying two cars collided and the one car had to swerve to miss hitting Pridemore and the children she was crossing.
“I had two kids with me and all I could think of was their safety. I was scared for them. It was a three-car pile up. It was the worst feeling I’d ever had. Now whenever I hear fender-benders, it makes me nervous,” Pridemore said.
Lovett is more laid back about it, saying, “Sure, I’ve had close calls. But if I got upset every time it happened, I’d probably have a nervous breakdown. We’re just lucky no one’s been hit yet.”
Pridemore never imagined when she took the job how it would change her perspective about crossing guards.
“I took the job because I need a job but within the first six months I realized I was making an impact. It’s our job to keep these kids safe. It changed my life a little bit. I definitely feel I’m making an impact on this city,” she said.
The crossing guards, administered by the police department but shared in financial responsibility by the police department and the school district, are trained in CPR and first aid as well as in emergency road flare protocol.
One of the biggest issues, both Pridemore and Lovett agree, is the speed of drivers as they travel the highway in that area.
“It looks like they’re going 90 mph,” Pridemore said. “They don’t see us and then they’re slamming on the brakes and you can hear the screeching noises. It’s very scary.”
Lovett said, “I think there should be a 25 mph zone any time there’s kids involved. People drive way too fast through here.”
And, of course, there are the angry expressions and obscenities that are hurled their way as they do their job that’s difficult to swallow at times but the crossing guards have been trained to turn a deaf ear to the nastiness.
“We’re not allowed to say anything. We just ignore them,” Pridemore said.
Overall, though, the happy smiles and appreciative parents outnumber the angry drivers.
“We’ve had parents stop to say hi and say thank you. Parents have even stopped to give us a cup of coffee to say thanks for keeping their kids safe,” Pridemore said.
The hugs from students are a nice bonus, too.
“Some of these kids I’ve seen from the beginning of their school years. You get to know them,” Pridemore said.