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Volunteer crossing guards respond after E. Germantown student struck by car

Just about a week after a Francis Pastorius Elementary School first grader was hit by a car while jaywalking near the school during dismissal, there was a new face at the corner of Sprague and Woodlawn streets in East Germantown.

Volunteer parents and staff members have stepped up in light of concerns about the lack of a crossing guard at the corner.

While there is one permanent guard on Chelten Avenue — a much busier road —the school heeded those concerns after parents picketed Wednesday to call for more.

Action United, an organization which promotes parent engagement in Philadelphia schools in low-income neighborhoods around the city, called for the protest.

Jesse Baxton, an organizer, questioned the lack of attention to incidents at poorer city schools. He said the underfunding is systemic.

“Why does it seem to be OK to the city that children in this neighborhood get hit by cars, but not in other neighborhoods?” he asked outside the school during dismissal time last week.

Parents want a dedicated guard

Darlene Brooks, whose great-niece is a second grader, said state-funding budget cuts should not leave children in harm’s way.

“[Volunteers] put a Band-Aid on a situation, but it’s better than nothing,” Brooks said. “What is more important the safety of the children? Maybe we can cut some salaries. Maybe if we cut some salaries, we can get more crossing guards.”

So far, the school has four volunteers including staff members, said Principal Aaron Starke, who noted he’s on the parents’ side of the issue.

“We’re thankful for all the help we can get,” he said, adding that with limited resources, they’ve had to get creative.

Starke said that roughly 80 percent of his students walk home without a parent or guardian as most of them live within a few blocks of the school. Parents claim there have been three instances of cars injuring children during the past two years.

Funding for guards

The city’s crossing guards are staffed by the Philadelphia Police Department, not the school district.

Sgt. Tara Holmes, commanding officer at the department’s School Crossing Guard Headquarters, said it’s always a tragedy to hear about accidents. However, safety is a joint effort, she added.

“I feel for the child, but they have to be more careful,” she said.

Holmes noted that educating children is just as important as having a crossing guard on site, and denied that low-income schools have fewer crossing guards on staff.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with anyone,” she said. “That’s just not true.”

Will it change?

The department is currently interviewing crossing-guard applicants.

After a request is received, inspectors are sent to do a survey of the corner before a decision is made.

Holmes said that two years ago, the waiting list was more than 300 requests long. That number has decreased but was not available to be publicly released this week. Holmes declined to say how much funding is available for the new guards across the city this year.

In the meantime, organizers say they are “cautiously optimistic” after requesting a guard for the corner where the incident occurred and hope to work with the school to find a solution.

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