Crossing guard Chris Bartholomew keeps kids safe, advocates for tougher safety measures on the block

Last month, NewsWorks asked readers to nominate their favorite crossing guards in Northwest Philadelphia. We received six submissions from the public and got clearance to cover five of the nominees (one person did not return our call). These crossing guard stories will run from Dec. 31 through the first week of January.

Crossing guard Chris Bartholomew is such a strong presence in the Wissahickon community that, if you look closely enough, you can see her on Google Street View at her post on Righter and Lauriston streets. 

(See photo in gallery above)

The Wissahickon native, whose parents live right up the block, has been on the job in Northwest Philadelphia for 11 years, seven of which have been spent at her current location near Cook-Wissahickon and AMY Northwest schools.

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She began in 2001 at St. Josaphat School in Manayunk where she stayed until it closed in 2005. She was then relocated to St. John the Baptist, where her two sons were attending at the time. When that school closed in 2006, she was assigned to Cook-Wissahickon.

Before becoming a crossing guard, she worked in communications for Independence Blue Cross. In 2011, she left the corporate world to find a job that would allow her to spend more time with her oldest son, who has muscular dystrophy and a learning disability.

Advocating for more safety measures 

In her seven years at the busy Wissahickon intersection, she’s witnessed a robbery, a car accident in which the person driving didn’t realize he had hit another car, and many close calls with speeding or texting drivers. Despite all of this, the children in Bartholomew’s care have never come in harm’s way.

“There are six or seven entrances and exits for cars in this area and people are using it as a thoroughfare to avoid Ridge Avenue, especially in the morning,” Bartholomew said. “I rely not only on my sight, but my hearing. If I can hear people accelerating, I’ll tell the kids ‘this person is in a rush, let’s wait [to cross] for a few seconds,'”.

Her dedication to the children’s safety doesn’t stop there. Last spring, she contacted the Philadelphia Streets Department to request for extra school zone signs near the intersection. After a site visit, the department turned down the request. Batholomew is planning on asking the department to take another look during the morning rush hour, when she says the road dangers are most prevalent. 

Richard Jefford knows the situation all too well. He’s been living in the neighborhood for 34 years and sees Bartholomew with the kids every morning as he walks his two dogs.

“With all of the school closings in the last couple of years, [Cook-Wissahickon] has gotten a lot more crowded,” he said. “This is a 25-mph zone and you have drivers doing 40 [mph]. The children have to walk through here. It’s dangerous.”

The ‘mayor’ of Righter Street 

With many parents unable to walk or drive their kids to school in the mornings and afternoons, Jefford says Bartholomew is playing a valuable role in the neighborhood.

“Chris is doing a job that, hopefully, they’re not gonna find technology to replace,” he said. “People are so wrapped up in technology these days but it’s nice to actually have people interacting with people.”

Chris Garrity, who nominated Bartholomew as one of Northwest Philadelphia’s favorite crossing guards, calls her the “mayor of Righter Street.”

“She knows everybody,” he wrote in an email. “She’s really taking care of the kids, especially considering the way that too many nitwit drivers speed down that hill.”

A source of support and protection 

For Bartholomew, taking care of the kids is second nature. She says watching them grow up is like watching her own two sons, now 19 and 15, go through the important milestones.

“The little ones are so tiny and so excited on the first day of school with their brand new uniforms and nice, new shoes and they’re jumping and hopping around,” she said. “Then, you see them progress into the upper grades as they lose their first tooth and next thing I know, they’re graduating,”

And, of course, the kids aren’t shy to share every part of their day with Bartholomew. On a recent morning, a young AMY Northwest student showed Bartholomew her mismatched socks and jean shorts over tights.

“It’s mismatch day!” she said proudly.

“That’s a great idea, Gabby,” Bartholomew said. “I love it.”

She’s someone who the kids can lean on for support and rely on for protection.

When news broke about a Roxborough man trying to lure children into his vehicle this year, Bartholomew took every precaution to make sure the children knew what to do in the event of an emergency.

“I’d give the kids instructions like ‘if anyone approaches you, just run to me, just scream and run as fast as you can,'” she said. 

Bartholomew says the job certainly has its challenges when it comes to dealing with the elements like rain, snow, ice and fog, but adds that it doesn’t compare to the satisfaction she gets in watching the kids grow up.

“It’s a great job,” she said. “People always tell me ‘you look so happy,’ well I am happy. It’s a wonderful job to have.”

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