Being a crossing guard is a job that not many will take on. Workers are exposed to dangerous conditions, like the possibility of being hit by a driver, not to mention the extreme weather that workers face here in New England. But for Marblehead resident Wendy Keyes, it’s the perfect fit.
For over 10 years now, Keyes has been ensuring the safety of students attending school in Marblehead by making sure they have a safe way home.
“I like being around the kids. I have a good time with them. They gained my respect; I gained their respect and it’s all about keeping the kids safe, that’s the priority of any crossing guard,” said Keyes.
While working, Keyes is sure to keep her eyes and ears open to any dangers students might be exposed to. She has experienced some “red flag” situations when students have been in danger.
From a student seeing a person in camouflage watching the school, which turned out to be a false alarm, to students feeling comfortable enough to express to her that they are being bullied, Keyes takes students’ concerns seriously and is always watching out for them.
“I’ve seen kids do things that I know are going to harm them and try to keep them safe,” said Keyes. “Occasionally I’ve had to grab the back of the backpack and pull them back.”
Keyes’ crossing post is located on Pleasant Street, one of the main roads that leads into town. Marblehead High School, Veterans Middle School, and Village Street School are all on the same road.
“The drivers in this town are crazy, I’ve almost been hit, yes! Many times. Have the kids almost been hit when they are out there with me? Almost,” said Keyes. “They know to listen to me. If I say stop, they will stop in their tracks and if I say run, they run.”
Although it is a school zone, it is also a very busy street, with cars constantly honking and road rage common. Keyes said she always tries to maintain the students’ safety but believes that drivers should be more cautious in the area.
“Let’s pay attention and slow down. You’re in a school zone, there are signs saying 20 miles an hour school zone. I have the new pedestrian lights, they go through those like nobody is paying attention to them,” said Keyes. “I just wish people would pay more attention to what they are doing when they are driving.”
Keyes said it can be challenging when students don’t understand the risks of crossing the street safely, and when weather conditions are bad.
“I don’t get mean to them, but I do put on a firmer voice. I will say look guys you are not going to be road pizza on my watch, you are not getting hit on my watch. Please listen to me and they do, and they see it. They’ve seen when I’ve almost been hit, and their mouths are wide open, and their eyes are wide open,” she said.
“I always say there is a hidden parking garage in town because of the number of cars we get, I don’t know where they are going or parking for a small town,” added Keyes.
There is, of course, a bright side to being a crossing guard. For Keyes, cheering students on and making them smile is what she enjoys most about her job.
“I can figure out who the new ones are, who the nervous ones are, and I find myself talking a little bit more to the shyer ones. If they are having a bad day, I’ll say something to them to cheer them up or make them smile,” she said.
For her contributions Monday through Friday over the past 10 years, Keyes is recognized as a humble, “unsung” hero.
“Being an unsung hero is meaning I am keeping the children safe,” said Keyes. “Crossing the schools, doing my job because that’s what I got hired to do. I don’t expect major accolades or anything like that. I enjoy what I do, I love what I do. I don’t think of myself as a hero I just do what I do.”
At 62, Keyes has no plans of retiring. She enjoys the cold months of New England and spending time with Marblehead students.