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Guard keeps kids safe

October 10, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

School crossing guard Mattie Cauffman was standing near Winter Street Elementary School in Hagerstown recently when one youngster's grandfather approached her.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

After a few hints, Cauffman did.

He was the birthday boy who tried to comfort Cauffman - his crossing guard nearly four decades ago - as she cried at her post after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"It used to be the parents who would remember me as their crossing guard. Now, it's my crossers' grandparents," said Cauffman, of Maugansville. "That's when I feel old."

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Cauffman has been leading schoolchildren across Washington County streets for 40 years.

She started as a crossing guard at the old Wayside Elementary School in 1962, when the Hagerstown Police Department ran the operation and guards were paid $1.25 per post, Cauffman said.

"We had to go before the Hagerstown City Council for a nickel raise - and we were lucky if we got it," Cauffman said.

Much has changed since then.

Wayside is long gone, and city police stopped sending patrol units to support crossing guards soon after the county Board of Education took over in 1981, Cauffman said. Motorists are now more impatient and less respectful of crossing guards and the children they protect, she said.

Cauffman's work philosophy has remained constant.

"I don't believe in intimidating a child. I want children to know I'm there to help them," she said.

Cauffman, who holds five regular posts and two temporary posts, scoots around to so many crossing sites each day that a mail carrier once told her, "I know you're cloned," she said.

She leads children across streets near Western Heights Middle School starting at 7 a.m., Winter Street Elementary School starting at 7:50 a.m., Salem Avenue Elementary School starting at 8:30 a.m. and 3:25 p.m., Maugansville Elementary School starting at 10:45 a.m. and 2:50 p.m., and Fountaindale Elementary School starting at 2:20 p.m.

Cauffman, who played softball into her 50s, said she enjoys the exercise her work offers.

"It makes me feel good," she said.

Cauffman has led children across the street in blistering heat, rain and wind.

"I enjoy being out. The weather doesn't bother me," she said.

Cauffman and a colleague conduct programs for preschoolers to familiarize them with the crossing guard uniform, job of the crossing guard, crossing safety and how to wait for the school bus, she said.

Cauffman has no plans to retire.

"I like my job," she said. "After 40 years, I have to."

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