• Susan Flanagan

Accident waiting to happen | The Kids are Alright | Oct. 11, 2011

Oh happy day. For four years I have been waiting to see a crossing guard on Elizabeth Avenue at Rennies River Elementary. Today is the day a freshly-appointed crossing guard should be on the job. Back in 2007 when my daughter started Grade 4 and my son Grade 5 at that school, I was up in arms over the lack of crossing guard. On our practice walk to school that August my daughter and I witnessed a near miss car accident as we attempted to cross at the crosswalk. While the car in the lane closest to us stopped, a speeding car on the other side decided to stop at the last minute not providing enough time for the tail-gating car behind to stop. The car behind thus screeched out into the other lane to avoid hitting the first car. The problem was: we had already stepped into the road when the first two cars stopped and the third car could have hit us. The whole purpose of the practice walk was to give my daughter the confidence to walk to school on her own and show her she would be safe. I quickly realized she was probably the farthest from safe she had ever been. Later I witnessed two accidents at this crosswalk.


I went to the principal who directed me to the city saying the schools do not staff crosswalks. The city told me they had a hard time recruiting people for the position of crossing guard. Once I investigated I realized why. Successful applicants would be paid, at that time, $9.44/hour for a job that would bring them out of their homes twice a day for an hour each time. They would be consistently working with irate drivers in a hurry to get to work or elsewhere. They would have to bundle up and come outside in sideways snow and driving rain. Make no wonder potential applicants weren’t chomping at the bit to apply for a position.

I proposed at the time that near-by Gonzaga students, all of whom need 30 volunteer hours to graduate from high school, take turns manning the crosswalk. In teams of two, they could complete their 30 hours and then pass the STOP sign on to the next couple of students. I figured this would do away with the need for paid guards and save the city money. Liability issues doffed that idea.


Then I had what I thought was another great idea. The Association of New Canadians holds classes in the old St. Pius X school right behind this crosswalk. If these new citizens are already on site and perhaps anxious to earn a bit of cash, they might be interested in the job. But alas in order to apply for the job you have to be a Canadian citizen, and possess a valid driver’s license, pre-work wellness check and a certificate of conduct from the RNC.

Jay, a neighbour whose son is set to begin kindergarten in 2012, suggested police sit at crosswalks in the mornings issuing tickets. I said they don’t have the manpower to keep police at crosswalks every day. He said they wouldn’t need to be there all the time.

“Once word gets out, motorists will think twice about running cross walks… It’s almost like stopping at pedestrian crossings is an option here. We all miss one sometimes; it’s the nature of driving. But here there’s a general lack of driver discipline.”


My two middle children who were at Rennies River in 2007 are now at Macdonald Drive Junior High, which traffic wise is a ticking time bomb. Not on Toronto Street where a crossing guard should be on duty today. But rather on Macdonald Drive where a button-operated traffic signal crosswalk is routinely ignored by students. No matter how many times teachers beg students not to cross the four-lane thoroughfare in traffic; they continue to do so, risking their own lives as well as those of drivers. Yesterday I went to observe to see if the situation had changed any. I witnessed dozens of students making a game of running through the cars instead of waiting at the light.


If you’ve been following city council news, you’ll know the city requested assistance from the province to man the cross walks. The province declined aid. I called City Hall to get any news on the situation and was thrilled to learn four new crossing guards are being trained and should be in position by today. Four schools however remain guardless. The salary has increased somewhat since 2007 sitting between $11 and $13 an hour. That`s a good thing but it`s still not enough to recruit workers.


Would you do it? Ask yourself? Would you stand in the middle of a sleet storm for an hour in the afternoon when you could be home in your cozy den reading a book? I’m sure there’d be days in the winter when workers would pay $13 an hour to NOT be there.


So what is it going to take to get the province to top up the crossing guard program? I can only think it’ll take a death.


Now for feedback from last week’s all-day kindergarten column.


Kitty from CBS, a former Kindergarten teacher writes, “Ontario and B.C both offer either Junior Kindergarten or structured Kindergarten readiness programs for both three and four year olds... These programs are not day care, or custodial care but actual programs designed and created to prepare a child for their introduction into school. Most of these programs are subsidised by the government for families who simple cannot swing another bill.

While in Newfoundland and Labrador the title PreSchool is included under the Child Care Services Act there is actually nothing in place for a four years olds transition into Kindergarten let alone full day Kindergarten. In Newfoundland and Labrador preschool and day care are one of the same, unless of course you are one of the fortunate parents who can afford to pay for an educational private preschool.

We need something in place so our four year olds can transition more smoothly into what will hopefully be a play based full day Kindergarten program. This is essential for both the child and the educator.

Convenience and economics should not be the only deciding factor with this issue. We need to take a good hard look at what is being offered to our prekindergarten children in this province.”


Barbara, the mother of 3 grown sons, has 8 grandchildren, ages 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, and 16. She writes: “The three younger ones live and go to school in Nova Scotia. They each attended 2 mornings a week of private pre-school during the year prior to their kindergarten enrolment. The four year old started full day kindergarten this year. He won't be 5 until December. These 3 younger grandkids are well and away when it comes to academic standing. I visit the family in NS several times throughout the year and am amazed at the level of learning they have accomplished, their reading skills, printing, math comprehension, etc. I think it is ludicrous when I hear ‘pilot projects’ being ‘considered’ for NL. The academic and social benefits of full day kindergarten, sharing, listening, absorption of knowledge by 3 and 4 year olds, have been demonstrated and proven within our own country and beyond. There's no need to study this further. Full day kindergarten is essential. Introduce it for our little ones without delay.”


Paula, whose daughter will start K in 2013, wants to see changes to the Kinderstart (pre-school) program in place for pre-K children. “Based on my own observations I think that program does not prepare children to properly enter the school system. In our own school district, Kinderstart meets once a month for approximately two hours. The teacher sends home a "bag" of homework and parents are left to essentially home school their four year olds until next year when K starts.


Perhaps an alternative to all day K is to revamp the Kinderstart program. Unless that is done I feel we need an all-day K to allow our kids to be on par with other Canadian children. I know in Alberta my friend's child had a three half-day a week pre-school program that better prepared her to enter school.


Having said all that I have to say we are pretty lucky in this district because the Trinity- Conception Family Resource Centre offers a weekly Kinderstart readiness program. It is free to parents but it may be problematic for working parents to bring their child because here they meet Wednesday afternoons. From what I've seen and heard from other parents they do a better job than the Kindersart program.


Katherine, a full-time working owner of a steadily growing business, wife and mother of three young children, writes: “ I can totally commiserate, I was unable to take maternity leave on my first two children as I was just getting started in business. And as a working mom I find myself continually grumbling about the school system and how it does not seem to factor in two working parents. PS Don't get me started on PD days. Hope you throw the book at ESDNL for that one.”


Rosalind, working mother of two, writes this of when her first son was to enter kindergarten.

“Around the same time came the invention of the universal child care benefit. We were informed by the center that due to the introduction of this benefit the rates at the center would be affected. Along with the rate increase… came kindergarten transportation fees. Fees that we would have to pay or miss time from work to take him back and forth from school to the center ourselves. We would now be paying more for half-day kinder care then we did for all day care. We were lucky; he loved kindergarten and adjusted to the changes quickly…

When our second son was born we weighed the option of private home infant care versus day care center. We feel very blessed in finding a private care home that we are very comfortable with; it’s the perfect place for him. It gives a mother peace of mind that if she has to go to work, she can wonder how her child’s day is going, but not worry about how he is doing. There is a very big difference.

Although he is only three, we have to prepare for kindergarten. Many of the at home child care providers cannot accommodate the demanding kindergarten schedule. They cater to infants up to kindergarten aged children. Their daily schedules revolve around snacks, lunches, naps and play with some preschool instruction, but it does allow for the monthly switch between mornings and afternoons, the exact drop off and pick up times, or the transportation demands associated with infants and kindergarteners. It is just not possible. So now it is decision time once again. Do we move him soon, before kindergarten? Away from the only child care provider he has ever had and loves dearly. Do we move him into a strange new place in time for kindergarten where he will be forced to adjust to new people and routines, right before he has to adjust to new children, teachers and routines of kindergarten. It is a big decision, one that will take some time and careful consideration. A decision that will have only his best interest at heart.

Having now experienced both preschool child care situations, I feel he will be prepared for kindergarten either way. Having full day kindergarten will eliminate the need to move these children and disrupt their lives…m f it gives a child, my child, an advantage in his education, and ultimately his future, I say, What are we waiting for?

Susan Flanagan is a journalist and mother of five living in St. John’s.

If you are interested in becoming a crossing guard, please call the city at 311 or fax 576-8575 or e-mail hr@stjohns.ca

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