Spend half an hour with one of Abbotsford’s crossing guards and a couple of things become immediately clear.
First is the traffic rushing through, often over the speed limit. Next to a marked crosswalk in a residential area, where Bill Foley works with his stop sign and reflective vest, a car pulls out of Nicola Street and onto Haida Drive, where a vehicle speeds up right behind and lays on the horn for several seconds.
“It’s called the Haida Drive freeway,” remarks one nearby neighbour sarcastically.
Second is the smiles and chatter. As Marylyn Miller bustles between her busy crosswalks outside Clearbrook Elementary, she frequently shifts between staring down oncoming cars with stern concern and a bright smile as she greets students and their parents arriving at the school.
Several parents and crossing guards have expressed concern over the future of the crossing guard service as it shifts from Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) to the Abbotsford School District, with effectively no information on how it will transfer over.
ACS spokesperson Kelly Neufeld said the non-profit, which has run the program for several years, took a look at some of the programs under its umbrella to determine which fell under its mandate: justice, opportunities and equal access for all. The crossing guard service didn’t fit the bill.
The school district will be taking over the service, which currently staffs 30 regular and casual crossing guards for 25 crossing guard locations, as of Dec. 21.
In an email, school district spokesperson Kayla Stuckart offered some assurance the program would continue, but little in the way of details.
“We are looking at all of our options, and district staff is currently working on a plan for the School Crossing Guards Program to ensure there is not a disruption to the service. We will communicate details once plans are finalized,” she said.
But that’s paltry assurance for some parents and crossing guards, who say they’ve had no indication from the school district of how the program will continue.
Foley, who works near Dr. Roberta Bondar Elementary School, said his concern is foremost about ensuring the children’s safety at the crosswalk.
“I see the cars speeding here every day and the danger that is on this road represented by cars – that’s the issue. We have quite a few little children going to this school,” Foley said.
Last December, a nine-year-old girl was struck and killed by a bus at South Fraser Way and Hill-Tout Street, which was not attended by its regular crossing guard at the time.
But some crossing guards supplement their pension incomes with the work, and they wonder if they need to be looking for new jobs.
“I presume I don’t have a job [on Dec. 21]. I haven’t been told otherwise. So I’m going to take the realist approach and see what comes of that,” said Miller, adding that the crosswalks are dangerous as cars drive through, often well above the 30 km/h speed limit and even above the usual city speed limit of 50 km/h.
“We try to keep the kids’ safety first and foremost. And I’ve sometimes had very annoyed, very irate, very angry, very screaming mad parents drive past and shake their hands at me and so on, but I don’t care.”
Karen Burton, who also works near Dr. Roberta Bondar Elementary, said the job offers a supplement to her pension, but it also provides her some social connection in her mornings and afternoons.
“And it makes you get up and get going,” Burton said. “I know all the parents; I know all the kids. I’ve seen them come as babies. Next thing, I look up, they’re driving a car. Next thing, it’s grad night.”