COLUMBIA — Lucy Kegley has to get up extra early to arrive at her shift on time but never complains; she’s grateful for the position. She was chosen from a pool of 35 applicants to fill one of 22 slots. And still, she was offered only two shifts a week.
Lucy, 11, is in the fifth grade at Shepard Elementary School — one of this year’s student Safety Patrol. “It’s fun,” she says, “I help people cross the street and get to feel kinda older. Responsible.”
It’s almost 8:30 a.m. on a recent Thursday, and students are beginning to arrive in force. Harried people are on their way to work, and parents are dropping off their kids. Buses are filing in.
Lucy is one of six on Safety Patrol duty Thursday morning and one of two working roadside. She is stationed at Shepard Boulevard and Audubon Drive; her partner, Mora Boatman, 10, is at Audubon Drive and Meadow Lark Lane.
Mora, a slip of a girl with a quiet intensity, steps into the street in front of a long line of cars to meet a new mother, walking her baby and two sons into the crosswalk.
Mora stops in the middle of the intersection with a neon yellow safety strap across her chest and a walkie-talkie clipped to her belt. She lifts a hand-held stop sign high in the air above her head. She waits until the crosswalk is clear before coming back to the sidewalk, careful to step back into the grass as she was trained to do.
Some of the adults cross themselves,” Mora says. “On the first day of school, some of them just drove right on through. But the police were here last week giving out tickets. Everyone stops now.” She looks at the passing cars with a satisfied smile.
The day began for the Safety Patrol in the gymnasium where they checked in and received their equipment before hurrying away to their assigned posts. A mix of girls and boys, they applied for their coveted positions at the end of fourth grade.
They're not just ordinary fourth-graders. They have to show significant leadership potential, be caught up in class, not have been sent to the office and have participated in a minimum number of extracurricular activities. School comes first, and the applications pass before a long list of teachers and administrators before selections are made. Those students who haven't beefed up their application to make the initial cut may apply again in the winter, and many do.
On this day, Trinity McCoy, 10, is in charge of the group. Trinity and Sarah Hollinger, 10, head to the office to pick up an American and a Missouri flag, each folded with near military precision.
Outside, they untie the halyard on the flagpole, unfold the American flag and clip it to the halyard. Trinity pulls it up a bit and does the same with the state flag. Careful not to let either flag touch the ground, Trinity hoists them both into the air, ties off the halyard and double-checks the tension with a couple quick flicks of her finger before walking away.
Students pouring from the buses look up at the flags. Sarah rushes off for the trailer classrooms to help the teachers there, and Trinity begins her rounds to make sure everyone has what they need. “I like to help the other Safety Patrol,” she says. “And it’s kinda fun to be, like, the boss.”
Up at the main entrance and down the sidewalk from the flagpole, Allison Floyd, 10, divides a stream of students who pass her on either side as they get off the bus. She tries to catch the eye of as many as she can, giving them a smile and a good morning. She’s the greeter this morning, standing just beyond the front doors welcoming everyone to school.
“The best part about this job is I get to greet kids in the morning, and if they’re sad I can brighten their day," Allison says. "Make them smile.” She shrugs, smiles and says hello to a student by name.
Many students give Allison a quick hello before going to the cafeteria for breakfast. Once inside the room full of round tables and carts filled with food, they are welcomed by Safety Patrol Megan Ford, 10, who makes sure they know where to sit and have everything they need.
With a tiny fist full of plastic-wrapped cutlery she circles the tables in the cafeteria. “Is everything OK?” she asks a much younger boy who hasn’t touched his cereal. He says something, nods, and Megan smiles before moving on.
Being on Safety Patrol is really fun,” she says. “I get to talk to kids and to help them.” She offers a napkin to a small girl holding a heavily iced cinnamon roll.
Now it’s 8:50 a.m., and there's a field trip to Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre. The children are finishing up breakfast. Teachers float among clusters of students gently reminding them of where they need to be. A few students rush down the hall eager to get out in the fresh air and on the bus for the field trip.
At the main entrance, the flow of students has dwindled. Physical education teacher and coordinator of the Safety Patrol, Karla Armontrout, stands outside the gym welcoming the patrol back from their shift.
"This is an opportunity for these students to gain leadership experience every day," she says. "We have this pretty complex system and, with their help,it works."