DeKALB – For Charlotte Richards, keeping the children out of the street on that particular Monday at that particular moment was just part of her job.
“I just did what any normal crossing guard would,” Richards said. “I had been hearing the sirens, and you automatically start looking ... I told them to step back because there was police, but they didn’t know how many until they went zooming by.”
Richards was commended by the DeKalb police for stopping children from crossing the street as police cars raced past her intersection at Ridge Drive and Huntington Road. Richards commented on their speed, stating she didn’t think they’d be able to make the curve on Ridge Drive.
Lt. Jim McDougall said DeKalb police were responding to an emergency call April 15 at the 800 block of Ridge Drive around the time Jefferson Elementary School had let out for the day.
McDougall said Richards knew what to do.
“They’re citizens that are trained by us,” McDougall said. “We train them that if any emergency vehicles are coming, they keep the kids on the sidewalk so they don’t cross.”
McDougall said one of the officers noticed Richards’ efforts to keep the students safe.
“She was trying to hold them back, which took extra effort to do so,” McDougall said. He added that it’s the first time in his memory a crossing guard has been commended.
As a crossing guard for Southeast Elementary School in Sycamore, Kathleen Koplin-Christ understands where Richards is coming from. “The parents are entrusting us with their safety, that’s the way I look at it,” Koplin-Christ said.
Both Richards and Koplin-Christ said the majority of the drivers they interact with are compliant. But there will always be drivers who test them, in Richards’ words.
“As long as [the children] get across. It upsets me, even though you have this,” said Richards, waving her stop sign around. “... As long as nobody gets hurt. That’s the main thing.”
Neither Richards or Koplin-Christ could estimate how many students have crossed their intersections. That’d be a harder job for Alice Bennett, another crossing guard at Southeast Elementary. Since 1969, Bennett has helped thousands of Sycamore children cross the street to get to school.
“I have some of the mothers and grandmothers who say, ‘You crossed me. Do you remember me?’ ” said the 82-year-old crossing guard. She added that it’s a hard feeling to describe.
Bennett, Richards and Koplin-Christ each described their interest in being a crossing guard as having something to do. Richards said she would be bored with retirement already if she wasn’t a crossing guard.
The crossing guards said they have received a number of items from children over the years. Bennett said one girl drew a picture of a crossing guard and put her name on it. Richards said she received Valentine’s Day cards.
Both Richards and Koplin-Christ described their crossing guard experiences as positive. Bennett said she would continue to be a crossing guard as long as her health allows.
“I just hope I can keep doing it,” Bennett said. “It gets me up in the morning.”