Linda Sarofim is the picture of professionalism in her crisp white blouse, immaculate navy blue skirt and blue and white hat, directing cars to stop and go, all the while keeping a watchful eye on children poised eagerly on the corner ready to cross the street.
After the cars are stopped -- she delivers a sharp trill on her whistle to signal halt -- she motions for her assistants, two Neabsco Elementary School safety patrols to allow the children to cross. When the last student is safely on the other side, she toots twice and signals for the cars to pass. Such are the days of a school crossing guard.
Sarofim has spent more than 12 years lending guidance to Neabsco students walking to and from school in Dale City. She has watched shy 10-year-old girls transform into teenage beauties. Boys that once pushed and shoved at the corners now return to discuss getting married and starting families. A former student stopped by the other day to tell her about meeting her daughter at college.
"They stop by a lot, I'm surprised by how much," Sarofim said of her former students. "That's really nice because we get a chance to catch up. They have grown into such nice people and that's nice to see."
Lt. Jean Watts, of the Prince William County Police Department, who is in charge of the crossing guard program, said Sarofim is one of 101 guards who spend about an hour each weekday morning and a half-hour in the afternoons helping children make it safely to and from school.
She also is one of 13 guards who work as parking enforcers. The guards, many of them mothers who want to make extra money, are paid from $6.95 to $10.43 an hour. Before they are hired, the guards must undergo a criminal check and driving record examination, as well as a rigorous interview process, Watts said.
With more parents dropping children off at school, there are fewer children for the guard to assist than in years past. Fewer than 50 students crossed with Sarofim's help last Friday afternoon.
"There are a lot of children who are left home alone to get themselves off to school, and sometimes the adult they see before they get to school is the crossing guard," Watts said. "There will always be a need for them."
Sarofim, who lives in Woodbridge, said her favorite part of the job is the children. "The kids are refreshing," she said.
Last Friday, Sarofim was visited by three former Neabsco Elementary students during her afternoon duties. Eleven-year-old Anthony Wright, now a sixth-grader at Godwin Middle School, stopped by to say hi on the way to Neabsco to pick up his younger brother.
Julie Alter, 11, also a student at Godwin, stopped by to sell Sarofim candy she is peddling for a school project. "I always come to visit Mrs. Sarofim," she said. "She's really sweet. She's like a second mother to me."
Julie said Sarofim is known to bestow gifts on her crossing assistants on their birthdays. At the end of each school year, students are treated to a special outing: a hamburger-and-fries party at a nearby McDonald's one year and a pizza party at a local park with Sarofim and another guard the next.
Anthony rides a bus to school and said he misses the days when Sarofim was waiting with a cheerful greeting each morning. A former patrol assistant, he had no qualms about being helped across the street. "I feel better about having a crossing guard than by crossing alone because it kind of makes you feel safe," he said.
Most of his peers, Anthony said, obeyed Sarofim's commands. Among the no-nos she won't tolerate are skateboarding across the street, running and rowdiness on the corner as children wait to cross. For those who cross against her directions, the school administration is called in to encourage cooperation.
Her assistants this year are Kurt Nagel, 10, and Todd Shaffer, 10, both fifth-graders at Neabsco. Before the work officially began last Friday, the three discussed some of the finer points of the job. If there is a problem with a child not cooperating, often it's because of energy that has been penned up all day. When children get out of school, their natural instinct is to run and play, Todd said.
Sarofim smiled as she watched her young charges at work. Todd was clad fashionably in red Reebok tennis shoes, which he had left untied as is the trend. Kurt looked every bit the son of a Marine with his father's camouflage hat pushed up on his forehead and a jacket with a tiger head emblazoned on the back. He held students back with a hand clad in a fingerless leather glove.
He commanded students to "Cross!" and "Walk, walk, walk!" in a clear, official voice. "I take this very seriously," he said.