One of my best school memories of growing up in St. Paul was in 5th grade volunteering to be a School Patrol Officer. It was a program that not only taught responsibility, but provided a wanted and needed service of “safety” for younger children coming and going from school. School Patrol Officers were role models looked up to by others, and offered a sense of civic participation. Students reaching 5th grade coveted that position and worked hard to get there. Now in 2009, I believe the position again has merit, although for possibly an expanded mission.
Some history on the School Safety Program. Many people believe the program was actually started in St. Paul. In 1921 Sister Carmela Hanggi at Cathedral School began a program where fellow students helped younger ones cross the busy intersection of Summit Ave. and Kellogg Blvd. protecting them from the growing popularity of the automobile.
The American Automobile Association nationally adopted the Safety Patrol movement in the 1920’s. Their mission was to have older students assist younger students in crossing streets coming and going from school. AAA supplies participants these days with an electric lime belt and shoulder strap with a badge, training materials, awards, newsletters, summer camps and even scholarship opportunities. The program operates throughout the United States and in 30 other countries. Many see it as a 1st step in being involved in public service and leadership. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both Junior Safety Patrol Officers, along with Chief Justice Warren Burger, 21 astronauts, and several Olympic stars including Eric Heiden and Bruce Jenner.
Back in the late 1960’s our jobs were to post officers at busy uncontrolled intersections near school with orange stop flags. The officers would walk out into the streets in designated crosswalks and hoist the flags allowing the young one’s to safely cross. We also had what we called “lines” that basically went about 6 blocks from school in every direction. These “lines” had two officers that for lack of a better term “escorted” children home or at least close to their home. We also were taught what to do in some basic emergency situations. Our officers voted each year for a Captain, Lieutenant, and for a Sergeant, who would help with the leadership of the group. The City of St. Paul had a uniformed officer in a special marked car that was devoted solely to the program, and would often drive around “inspecting” our procedures and conduct. The school and the city provided several perks during the year for our duty, including free admission to the circus and a school patrol picnic at the end of the year.
I realize times have changed since the late 60’s, some things for the better, others not. Many children ride busses now whereas we had no bussing at that time. Also, many more traffic control devices (signals, stop signs, crosswalks, etc) have been implemented helping traffic and pedestrian safety. The reason for my idea of an expanded mission comes from the seemingly common occurrence of predators (sexual, or ex spouses) and the everyday stories of young kids disappearing coming or going to school. Now days with both parents working, many of our children are coming home alone. An expanded School Safety Patrol program of protecting younger students by helping them get safely home, not only from automobile injury, but protection from predators could be a win-win situation. Not only would it give the sense of self worth and responsibility to older students, but give the community and the younger kids a sense of protection.
It’s not a new problem. I was standing at my post on an early March weekday in 1967 waiting for kids to come to my intersection to cross. A 2nd grade girl approached me crying. When I asked her what was the matter she told me that some strange man in a station wagon had asked her to get into his car. She had told him no and ran away. I asked her where this happened and she told me he was over there…pointing down the street. I told her to stay and began walking towards the parked car, at which point he drove away. I walked her to the principal’s office who called the police who came for a description and report. We were amazed to discover there were 2 other reports of the same thing happening at nearby schools that morning.
Many communities have some sort of school patrol program in place. In some cases there are adults who do some of these functions. Some cities have dropped it deciding there is no longer a need. I suggest that along with the American Automobile Association being a sponsor, possibly another organization (for example…the Jacob Wetterling Foundation) could jump on board and help expand the mission with additional awareness and training. With an expanded role, the School Safety Patrol program could be as relevant as ever.
American Automobile Association School Safety Patrol Program:
Minneapolis Police School Safety Patrol Program: