Getting Their Message, and Children, Across
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Carthelia Jackson stepped from her car, adjusted her hat, smoothed out her fluorescent green vest and grabbed her pristine white gloves.
Around her neck hung a whistle, perhaps the most important tool in her line of work. On her face was a look of sheer concentration. Even before it was time to start, she was in place, surveying the scene: traffic volume, how fast cars were traveling. Nearby, her partner, Candyce Whitaker, was similarly positioned, watching and waiting.
Then, like Pop-Tarts out of a toaster, dozens of children burst onto the sidewalk, fresh out of Lake Arbor Elementary School in Mitchellville. Jackson and Whitaker moved into action.
"Hold on! Slow down!" Whitaker said with a smile as little girls clutching Hannah Montana backpacks and little boys sporting Nike high-tops converged on her. "Wait right here!"
Across the street, Jackson's white-gloved hand went up in a "stop right there" gesture, and she sounded quick toots on the whistle. With eyes on the stopped cars, she beckoned from the middle of the road for the children, and Whitaker released them.
"Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii!" one boy yelled as he approached with a smile that showed missing front teeth. Others yelled similar greetings.
"How are you?" Jackson asked when they were safely across. "Did you learn a lot in school today?"
"Yesssssssss!" several children yelled as they charged toward home, snacks and the chance to loose themselves from the confines of their white-and-navy uniforms.
Jackson signed on with the Prince George's County Police Department's Crossing Guard Unit in 1971 when she was looking for a part-time job that would allow her to stay home with her children. Thirty-seven years later, she's still there.
No job she's heard about since offers what she has: the chance to work with people she likes, nurture children, be outside and have most of her day free. The job also offers medical, dental and disability benefits, as well as sick, vacation and personal leave. Hourly pay ranges from $10 to $18.
"I really enjoy the work," said Jackson, the mother of three grown daughters who used to come along for her shifts. "I like being outside, and I really enjoy the kids. You meet so many, and they are so different. . . . But overall, they are just a lot of fun."