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Only in Beaufort: Crossing guards make sure no child is left behind

Special to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette

He pulls out a bright yellow vest and a red stop sign, closes the trunk, and walks toward the crosswalk, waiting for business to step up.

Robert Jenkins has followed this routine for the past 14 years as a crossing guard for Mossy Oaks Elementary and Beaufort Middle School.

He's not alone.

At the same time, in another part of town, Jack Easler waits for the light to turn red and slowly walks toward the middle of the crosswalk. Holding both arms in the air -- a stop sign in his right hand -- he turns his head to check on the children following behind him.

Easler has been a crossing guard for five years, working the busy intersection of Ribaut Road and Duke Street.

The image of the school crossing guard is firmly tied to 1950's America, a time and place when such positions seemed part of the educational fabric.

Today, however, there are only about 659 others like Jenkins and Easler in South Carolina. Budget cuts and school sites in more rural areas have certainly contributed to that drop off.

Not that it bothers Jenkins.

"I was just looking to volunteer somewhere after I retired from the Commissary on Parris Island," he said. "Every year, I say I'll give it up, but I haven't."

Easler, too, was moved by an urge to give back to the community where he spent most of his life as a business owner and pastor.

"All the kids in my area are good, respectful, kids," he said. "They all call me 'Mister Jack' or 'Pastor Jack' and I think they and their parents understand the severity of the road traffic."

Getting the children safely across the street is, of course, the number one job. And it's just as easy to stop traffic for one child as it is for a group of them. Call it the No Child Left Behind on the Sidewalk policy.

Jenkins has seen children progress from Mossy Oaks to Beaufort Middle before heading off to high school, where crossing guards are no longer needed.

For Easler, it's about rare moments, like the little boy quietly giving thanks for the flower he was twirling in his hands, anxious to get across the street and home to give it to his mother.

Both are at their posts, school day in and school day out, through stifling sun and pounding rain.

We may overlook them.

We should appreciate them.

They keep our kids safe. More than that, they are often one of the first authority figures our kids see everyday.

They can also leave a lasting impression.

Over three decades ago, a man named Stan Netherton stood in the same spot where Jenkins stands now, holding up a stop sign so children in Quiksilver shirts and Jams shorts could get to the other side safely.

I was one of them.

I can still see his blue uniform shirt, campaign cover and friendly smile.

Expect children to remember Robert Jenkins and Jack Easler in the same way.

Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at rlcopeland@hargray.com.

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