February was Crossing Guard Appreciation Month and BFF is celebrating because they truly help peds! Orange County crossing guards Donna Mitchell, Brian Dabney and retired crossing guard Tony Calabro are part of the BFF team as data collectors tracking how many drivers yield to people in marked crosswalks. Here, they take off their vests, put down their stop signs, and cross the street as the average pedestrians. Their experiences make them the best candidates for this job, because they understand the dangers of the roads in Central Florida.
They shared their most rewarding experiences, enduring the elements, and crossing students – and sometimes horses – safely.
How long have you been a crossing guard?
Donna: About 6 months.
Brian: Second year.
Tony: I was a supervisor for eight years and a crossing guard for four years.
Why did you decide to become a crossing guard?
Donna: I’m retired and I was looking for something to do and I wanted flexibility to be able to give back to my community by volunteering my time at the church. We have a food pantry and being a crossing guard allowed me that flexibility to run back and forth. So during the morning and the evening I can do what I need to do during that time.
Bryan: Well I just returned to the United States after living in Germany for 27 years. I needed a job and that was one of the opportunities that I had and I took advantage of it. I really enjoy it because it also gives me the flexibility to travel back and forth to Germany, which I will be going back in March to see my children.
Donna: The flexibility with time off is something I did not mention, but it is a perk as well. We can travel during the summer and major holidays.
Tony: I am grandfather to nine grandkids. I love my grandkids and I love children. It was a great choice for me.
In what ways do receive appreciation for what you do?
Tony: I did it because of the drivers who would pass by me and thank me for slowing the traffic down and keeping the children safe.
Donna: Drivers honk their horn to say thank you and say things like, “God bless you.” I get a lot of nice people saying things like that, and out there in the elements, which encourages you. In between children, you are just standing there, so a little word of encouragement goes a long way.
What do you all do if there is a torrential downpour?
Donna: We have to stand there. We always have to be prepared. I always make sure to watch the forecast to know what the weather is going to be for that day, how to prepare myself. I have my raincoat, I have a towel.
Tony: Orange County provides raincoats, but you cannot carry an umbrella because that is an obstruction of vision for the drivers. You also cannot sit down.
Donna: The only time you are allowed to sit in your car is if there is thunder and lightning. They do allow us to do that.
What about hurricanes?
Donna: We check the news to see if the school is canceling classes. If so, we are off. If not, we call the school to see if the class times are altered and what time to report.
If you could have a digital messaging board, what would you have it read to drivers?
Donna: Slow down.
Brian: Yield to Pedestrians!
Tony: I agree, Yield to Pedestrians!
One of the biggest problems you see on the road as a crossing guard?
Tony: When you were out there and the driver was taking a right hand turn and looking at the traffic coming from the left. The drivers are then not looking at the crossing guard and children trying to cross the street.
Donna: Yes, it is a dangerous job.
What is your most rewarding experience as a crossing guard?
Donna: Seeing the kids obey and do what you have told them to do. It makes me feel good that they are actually listening and learning, and showing me respect.
Brian: I had a school crossing guard trainer come to me with a letter thanking me for helping her daughter.
Tony: A lot of times what happens is, and I am retired now so it may be different now, but we were more often scolded then rewarded. As complaints come into Orange County, we hear about them. There is not enough patting on the back. There’s a lot of things that you guys do out there that are dangerous.
Donna: It’s a thankless job, really. The amount of money that we are paid does not compensate for the amount of danger that we are in.
What was the most memorable experience as a crossing guard?
Tony: I had an experience where a car hit a bus, and I had to get the children out of the bus. I noticed there was lots of gas leaking from the bus, so I moved quickly. The woman who hit the bus was determined to get her cell phone from her car, despite the fact that she was bleeding everywhere. I asked her to keep at a safe distance from the crash scene, but refused. She touched me with her blood and as a result, I needed to get an AIDS test. They used to call me the 911 guy because I’ve had so many incidents.
Tony: One of the oddest things that I ever did was in 2002, I crossed a horse. It was near Gotha Middle School. There was a woman who could not afford a trailer to take her horse over to her barn, so she was walking him two miles. So I am doing my job on a normal day and look up to see a woman walking towards me with her horse. I went ahead and helped them cross the street.
Did the horse use the crosswalk?
Tony: You Bet!