Every fall when classes start again, they grab their gear and head to school. But it's a neon vest and a stop sign, rather than a backpack and lunch box, that crossing guards like Cletus Lanners take with them each morning.
"Good morning!" Lanners said to a group of Marshall Middle School students, as he walked out into the crosswalk to usher them across Saratoga Street. Not all the kids looked as energetic as Lanners about going to school, but several said hello back.
Cindy Mitchell gets ready to lead a group of children toward the street.
Crossing guards help to keep an eye on several busy intersections near Marshall Public Schools each day. It's a job that has kept some longtime guards coming back for more than a decade.
Lanners said he first started working as a crossing guard in Marshall about 12 years ago, at the same time that Denis Mitchell and his wife Cindy Mitchell started working as crossing guards, too. Denis Mitchell, a meter reader for MMU, said it seemed like a good side job to take. Bob Vandendriessche, one of the crossing guards currently stationed near the Marshall Middle School, said he wasn't sure exactly how long ago he started. It would have been after he retired, 15 years ago or more, he said.
"It's a good way to pass the day, especially in the morning," Vandendriessche said. He also liked getting to know the children walking to and from school every day.
Lanners said he was first encouraged to become a crossing guard by a friend.
"I guess we're the old-timers now," Lanners said of himself, Vandendriessche and the Mitchells. "Sometimes in the winter, you wonder, 'Why am I doing this job?' But I enjoy working with the kids."
Getting schoolchildren safely across the street can be a challenging job, crossing guards said. There are multiple directions of traffic to watch out for, as well as the occasional impatient child or driver. At the intersection of South 4th Street, West College Drive and Country Club Drive earlier this week, Cindy Mitchell seldom stood still, guiding West Side Elementary students from one side of the crossroads to the other and pressing crossing signal buttons with expert timing.
Traffic can tend to bottleneck around the Middle School in the mornings as well, Vandendriessche said.
"C Street is always busy," he said.
Teaching kids about crossing safety is a big part of the guards' work.
In the beginning of the school year, Denis Mitchell said, "You kind of have to get the kids trained on walking their bikes across the street."
"They're pretty good about it. Every once in a while one will try to take off," Cindy Mitchell said. When that happens, she said, she lets the school know, to remind students about crossing rules.
Dealing with the weather might be one of the hardest parts of a crossing guard's job. The guards said they have to come prepared for whatever the day brings, whether that means wearing hats for the sun, putting on rain gear, or bundling up against the cold.
"Warm boots are one of the most important things to have," Cindy Mitchell said. "Concrete can get cold when you're standing on it a long time."
"You look for places to get out of the wind and rain, too," Denis Mitchell said.
Kids start arriving at school in the morning between 7 and 8 a.m., and that's when guards said they need to be out at their posts every day.
"Usually by about 7:20, kids are coming," Cindy Mitchell said. The morning schedule doesn't bother her, though.
"We're early risers," she said of Denis and herself.
There tends to be more kids walking home from school in the afternoons, but they disperse quickly, crossing guards said.
"Everyone's in a hurry to go home and get something to eat," Vandendriessche said.
After a while, you get to know the kids at your corner, he said.
"You know which ones are first in their family, which are in the middle and which ones are the youngest," Lanners agreed. Lanners and Cindy Mitchell said after seeing kids cross the street every day, they can tell which students are running late in the morning, or may be out sick.
Denis Mitchell said his favorite part of being a crossing guard was, "Seeing the kids grow up. We see them here for two years, and then sometimes we see them down the road."
Now that school is back in session, guards urged area residents to keep safety in mind when driving in Marshall. Slow down in school zones and be prepared to stop for children - and crossing guards - near intersections, they said.