Keeping kids safe a labour of love

Willows elementary school crossing guard Jack Rohrschneider stops traffic for a student at the crosswalk on Cadboro Bay Road.

Willows elementary school crossing guard Jack Rohrschneider stops traffic for a student at the crosswalk on Cadboro Bay Road.

Willows crossing guards watch out for students

As vehicles come to a halt at the Cadboro Bay crosswalk that leads to Willows school Jack Rohrschneider steps out.

Wearing a yellow reflector vest and carrying a stop sign and with two youngsters following behind him on scooters, Rohrschneider is clearly recognizable as a crossing guard. After the boys safely reach the other side the 73-year-old tips his hat to waiting motorists. Many wave back.

“I love this job, adore it. It gives me a few hours out in the fresh air each day. I don’t feel useless,” says Rohrschneider.

A retired machinist, he’s been a crossing guard for eight years. “I might have three more years doing this,” he says.

Twice a day, for 40 minutes in the morning before the school bell goes  the crossing guard stands at his post at the crosswalk on the west side of the school. He greets kids, some by name, and parents then pushes the button for the flashing yellow light before heading out to the middle of the crosswalk to raise the stop sign. He does the same thing after school.

An emigrant from Germany who spent about 20 years in Vancouver, he doesn’t mind the wet weather.

“That’s when kids need us the most,” he says. “That’s when I make sure I’m here.”

Sidney-based Beacon Community Services runs the crossing-guard program. Once handled by the school advisory council, then the municipality, Beacon took over the program five years ago.

At about the same time, Rohrschneider noticed gardener Margaret Hill working nearby.

“He stopped me and asked ‘Would you like to do this job?’ I think he needed a vacation,” she says.

Hill filled in for the crossing guard while he took a few weeks off and then applied and was hired for a permanent position. Guards take one day of training with a Beacon staffer and also go through a background check.

She now works at the corner of Musgrave and Dalhousie Streets with some of the 13 Grade 5 students who do patrol duty. Her corner is a lot busier than Rohrschneider’s.

“There are close calls,” she says. A motorist once drove through the intersection while Hill was in the crosswalk and students were following. “She hadn’t seen me, so I just hit the car to let her know we were there.”

When Oak Bay police park nearby on the street, as they often do, traffic noticeably slows down.

“It’s funny how they (motorists) can all drive 30 km/h all of a sudden,” Rohrschneider says.

Both say it’s the children and their parents that gives them job satisfaction.

“You hear their stories and you feel like you’re part of the community,” Hill says.

Parent Spencer Robinson walks his daughter, who is in Grade 4, past Rohrschneider to the school and then walks home passing Hill.

“The guards are fantastic,” he says, “And for the kids there is a real sense of security and consistency. They see their smiling faces every day, rain or shine.”