Heroes of La Crescenta Elementary

Posted by on Apr 8th, 2010 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Photos by Mary O’KEEFE Carlos Arevalo and Carlena Johnson (shown with back to camera) are the guardians for La Crescenta Elementary School, shepherding children across the busy intersection at Prospect and La Crescenta avenues.

By Brandon HENSLEY

They arrive in cars and buses, but aren’t they supposed to fly or swoop in on a hovercraft?

Their attire consists of a highlighter-green vest and a red cap. What – no capes or cowls, or even a bold logo on the chest?

And forget about having powers or fancy gadgets unless a booming voice, a whistle and stop sign are acceptable ways to fight daily injustices.

Actually, they are.

They are the crossing guards, the watchmen (and women) of La Crescenta Elementary School, sent every morning and afternoon to preserve the peace and protect the lives of innocent children, risking their own in turn from overzealous and impatient drivers everywhere.

Don’t laugh, it’s true.

“It’s a big problem and kind of dangerous,” said Carlos Arevalo. “I’m out there putting my life on the line for the kids.”

Arevalo is one of the guards who mans the corner of La Crescenta and Prospect, a danger zone for parents and their children. Walking to school shouldn’t require reenacting the traffic scene in the movie “Dodgeball,” but try making the drivers understand that. Think of the children? Think of how much my boss will yell at me if I punch in late again!

Arevalo has seen this town’s true face, and it isn’t pretty. “Sometimes the cars want to turn around behind your back,” he said. “When I’m facing a different direction they’ll come behind me and sneak around and pass me, but I always catch them.”

And so it goes, every day. Cars fly down La Crescenta Avenue to get on to the nearby 210 Freeway, or they’ll turn onto either street with reckless abandon. They speed, ignore the signs, and zoom in front of children to beat the light.

“People drive right through the red light,” said La Crescenta Principal Kim Bishop. “Especially in the morning when they’re on their way down to catch the [210] freeway, they’ll just drive right through the red light.”

In the last couple of years, changes have been made at the intersection: The lights have been reworked, a flashing countdown has been installed to let the kids know how much time they have left to get to the other side, and Prospect now has a no parking zone, as well as a turn lane.

But parent Shawn White is still constantly aghast at the problems. “The light will turn red and there will be four [cars] in the intersection and the crossing guard is trying to cross people but they have to let those four cars turn for the safety of the kids before they can cross,” he said. “It’s so ridiculous.”

Arevalo, in his second year working at La Crescenta,  admitted he’s been close to being hit several times, which can make him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

“I’ll scream, and blow the whistle,” he said.

Alas, Arevalo is only one man. He needs a partner. This is a group effort, after all, and there is no greater equalizer than Carlena Johnson.

They call her the warden at her mother’s house. Here, they call her a lifesaver.

“She’s phenomenal,” said Bishop. “If it wasn’t for her, there would be a lot of problems.”

This is Johnson’s first year at La Crescenta, but she’s already garnered a reputation for being the loudest, baddest crossing guard on the block. Challenging her is akin to going up against an American Gladiator. Instead of a stop sign, she should hold one that reads “Oh. No. You. Didn’t.”

What makes her so effective? “I have a big mouth,” Johnson said laughing. “I just have authority in my voice,” and that’s easy to see watching her survey the intersection before bellowing to the children, “All right, step off!” If a driver approaches the light and wants to turn before they should, Johnson will whip around and yell, “Hold it!” while getting in a stance and putting her hand up, as if preventing the car from moving by telekinesis.

Authority might be what she projects, but it’s what is inside her heart that has led her to this calling. Her teenaged nephew was a hit-and-run victim three years ago. “He chipped a bone in his leg, so I said I would take a [crossing guard job] to protect the children,” she said.

Johnson also has a job taking care of the elderly. She said helping people is in her blood. Her sister had six kids, then left them with her mother. But their mother worked two jobs then, so it was up to Johnson herself to care for her nieces and nephews as much as she could.

She said she feels like an angel doing this job. White called her a drill sergeant. “We’re real lucky to have her,” he said.

Bishop said of all the crossing guards the school has had, “I think the ones we have now are probably the best.”

Both the school and parents have shown their appreciation in the form of movie tickets, gift cards, and water and soda on hot days. The relationship between the guards and children is personable; save a life, make a friend.

“When they’re driving, they holler out the window for me,” Johnson said. “ It’s just what I like to do. I like to take care of people, make them feel safe.”

That has included days when Johnson notified the police of a drunken man who was in the bushes (“I didn’t want the children to see that,” she said), and just recently a morning when all the lights at the intersection went out, and Arevalo and Johnson had to control traffic all by themselves.

In this line of work, with great responsibility comes great annoyance. “It disappoints me,” Johnson of the drivers. “Because they have kids in the car and they should treat everyone else’s kid that’s out here on the walkway the same. Just because your kid is in the car doesn’t mean you must not respect somebody else’s kid.”

Respect is something the guards have received. Arevalo wears a No. 1 Safety pin on his hat, given by their employer, All City Management. Johnson has some pins that she used to put on her jacket, but, “They keep falling off, so I don’t wear them.”

That makes sense. Who can be bothered by the little things when a greater importance is at stake? At the end of the day, Arevalo takes the bus to his Glendale home. Johnson gets in her car and drives back to Pasadena. Rest assured, they always return to fight another day, for a hero’s work is never done.

1 Response for “Heroes of La Crescenta Elementary”

  1. Scott Young says:

    I have a daughter in kindergarden and we walk to school trying to avoid the cars along the way. If we could clone these cross guards and have them around every school the world would be a safer place !
    Thank you Cross Guards ! Your work is greatly appreciated !
    Scott Young

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