Empowered kids are keeping their schools safe through an 80-year-old private sector, school and police partnership.
The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) School Safety Patrol program has 20,000 kids across Ontario monitoring crosswalks and drop-offs letting kids know when it’s safe to cross or approach a bus for pick-up.
Constable Peter De Quintal, a Community School Liaison Officer in 12 Division, now has six of his schools participating in the program, where kids wear fluorescent yellow vests and control how students cross the road.
“We’re creating little leaders and volunteers – getting kids involved in their communities to create safer communities,” says De Quintal. “They are a visible deterrent to speeding and dangerous driving. Even if they don’t get a lot of kids crossing, traffic around slows down because they see the kids out there in a reflective vest. They’re quite obvious out there. You’ll see traffic slow down and sometimes stop even when they don’t have to.”
At Harwood Public School, the School Safety Foot Patrollers, spent the morning monitoring the intersection at Leigh and McCormack Sts. where buses off-load kids, parents make drop-offs by car and many others walk along the park. They don’t direct traffic or step out on the road but direct other kids when it’s safe to cross.
The Foot Patrollers stand back from each corner of the crossing and put their arms out at a 45-degree angle with palms facing inward to corral the kids. When they believe it’s safe to cross, they communicate with one another across the street and turn themselves inwards pointing in the direction they want you to cross to say it’s safe to cross.
Alexi, 11, says she loves coming to school for classes, meeting her friends and participating in clubs each day.
“I wanted to help people walk safely across the street and wanted to make myself proud,” she says, of joining the program. “Before people who used to run across the street stopping the cars, since we’ve done this program it’s safer.”
Trina Wootton, special education and French teacher coordinates the program at Harwood, says she has seen driving behaviours change around the school.
“Across the street we have industries and not everyone is thinking this is a school neighbourhood when they’re driving, so having the kids in their bright vests at the corner is a good reminder that kids are here,” she says. “For the kids, it’s a sense of pride that they are doing something for the school and it doesn’t take a lot of time to make that difference.”
Traffic Services Safety Programs Coordinator Constable Jenelle Higo says over 100 schools and 3,000 students are participating in the program this year. She hopes more take advantage next year.
Officers can take a full day of training offered by CAA before each school year and identify schools and principals that might benefit from the program.
“You can see that drivers are definitely slowing down and paying attention. Those kids remind everyone that our most precious family members are in and around schools each and every day, and that it is our responsibility to drive safe and take extra care,” Higo says. “It’s surprising how much the School Safety Patrollers can make a difference. We give them a little encouragement and training and they flourish. They become little leaders and role models for other kids and community members to obey the traffic rules.”
She says many Toronto schools are in older neighbourhoods without infrastructure or space for cars to pick up and drop off kids so the program becomes even more important.
It’s also a great opportunity for police officers to be involved in the school in a positive and fun way. Officers are able to thank Patrollers for their dedicated work and commitment to the program, through rewards and incentive days, for example, a pizza day for all Patrollers.
Harwood students and brothers, Imran, 10, and Ismail, 12, say they like doing things together and helping people.
Kelly, 13, says she likes to keep an eye out for younger kids who are so small they might not be seen by passing cars.
“It’s a good opportunity to be involved in the school and make the school a safer environment for everybody,” says the Grade 8 student. “I saw people crossing the street unsafely and I wanted to change that.”
De Quintal says the program is yet another positive outlet at the school.
“You give them an opportunity to do something outside of a sports team or a club. You’re giving them something different to show leadership,” he says. “You’re giving them responsibility. If they feel more responsibility they feel proud and have self-worth. They’re also having a lot of fun and enjoying it.”
Visit the CAA School Safety Patrol webpage for more information