Sharon Rucker has been a crossing guard for Gainesville City Schools since 1999.
"I love the kids. It's my priority, waking up in the morning to see them, wave and smile," Rucker said. "Thank the Lord, he wakes me up and I got a job to go to."
The Gainesville school system has eight crossing guards. Some of them are counselors and teachers, others cafeteria workers in addition to their crossing guard duties.
New Holland Core Knowledge Academy is one such school.
"New Holland is different than the other schools in that we don't have the number of children crossing the street," said Elfreda Lakey, assistant superintendent for human resources and operations for Gainesville City Schools. "There are some houses behind the school so it's just a small number."
Rucker works at both Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School — where she is also a cafeteria worker— and Gainesville Middle School.
With Fair Street being at Wood's Mill Academy this year, Rucker said she misses a lot of the students who used to walk to school.
As a crossing guard, Rucker directs traffic, watches for vehicles parked on grassy areas near the schools and has to stay focused to make sure children make it safely to parents, buses and homes.
"You have more buses, more cars bringing kids to school," Lakey said. "That has more accident possibility."
When he started as a crossing guard 31 years ago, Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy crossing guard Jacob Wilmont was trained by the police department and then had the entire program put in his hands to coordinate. He's worked at the former Candler Street School, Fair Street, Gainesville Middle and New Holland as well as Enota.
"When we were hired, we were hired for one thing — children. But the traffic's grown so much you have to do both," Wilmont said. "I have to love it. These cold days and cold mornings, they freeze you all over. I just love the people and I enjoy doing it. They're really friendly; 95 percent of them are great. Then there's the 5 percent who I don't care what I see or not that give me some attitude."
The Gainesville Police Department stopped funding crossing guards in school year 2010-11, Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said in an email to The Times.
"We had to hire our own. We pay them from (the school board budget)," she said.
Crossing guards work two hours a day, so paying them is not a big strain on the budget, Lakey said.
Rucker said the only thing frustrating about her job is when taxis pull up and try to make U-turns or other difficult maneuvers when there are kids around.
"Parents are so wonderful. I get ‘bonuses' all year round. A lot of them just stop and talk to me," Rucker said. "The kids, they'll see me at the grocery store and they'll say ‘Hey crossing guard!' They don't know my name but they recognize me."
She said back when she went to Fair Street in first through sixth grades, there were no crossing guards. But now, they're a vital part of the school day.
"They are definitely necessary. There are more cars than ever before. You don't want children, cars and buses mixing at the same time. That can be disastrous," Lakey said.
Wilmont's advice for parents and students is to first of all, slow down.
"I've seen kids get out of the car and walk in front and the parents start to pull off," he said. "I tell kids to walk behind the car, not across the front. Nine times out of 10 they won't back up."