It’s the first day of school, and embracing the task at hand — returning to the classroom — isn’t always apparent on the faces of Roosevelt Middle School youngsters.
But no matter the state of mind, there’s one constant that seems to get them on their way across Chicago and Jackson avenues with an enthusiasm that’s hard to keep bottled: crossing guard Betsy Errichiello.
High-energy, the 56-year-old River Forest resident shares a rousing “gooooood morning “or “welcome back to the school year” to everyone who walks by her corner.
Kids on bicycles hurriedly ride across the street. Others wearing backpacks and toting shopping bags step lively by. Some seem bleary-eyed. One boy is so restrained that she jokingly says, “Try to control your excitement.”
She gets a lot of “thank you” from the kids and adults. And she gives them right back.
“I get a kick doing it,” she said. “I still get so much enjoyment out of it.”
For 10 years, rain or shine, she’s there early morning and mid-afternoon. If you count the 10 years that was a substitute, “wherever they needed me,” she said, she was a crossing guard for 20 years.
But she’s not there to direct traffic.
“We’re there to make sure that kids [and adults when they come] cross safely,” she said.
What can be the big obstacle to that? Of course, the drivers.
Parents who don’t signal when they turn is one thing; cars that speed along the street and don’t stop is quite another. One nearly drives through the crosswalk just as kids are ready to cross the street.
“They don’t stop. [The cars] keep going. I could have a passel of kids crossing Chicago and people won’t even stop,” Errichiello said. “I’m surprised more kids don’t get hit.”
What other things irk her? Drivers who talk or text on their phones, which is now not just illegal around school zones but throughout the state. They do that, she said, while the kids are in the car. Putting on makeup, too, is another one, but “I haven’t seen as much of that as I used to,” she said.
The adults crossing the street are terrific. One guy was walking to take the El to work and told her she was crossing guard when he was at Roosevelt.
And the kids are great, she said. In the overall scheme of things, they listen and they have a good time.
A number of years ago a group of Fenwick High School students Errichiello to handle one of the clues in their scavenger hunt. Errichiello, who knew them when they were at St. Luke Parish School, agreed.
When it came time to be part of the game, she wondered aloud to them, “How did you know to come to my corner.”
Without missing a beat, they said the clue was: “It was the one place where they always said thank you every morning,” she said.
A mother who had her last child go through Roosevelt, told her a couple of years ago about her favorite thing about the first day of fifth grade? She said her kid got to cross with crossing guard Betsy.
“The kid always saw her crossing the older siblings; now the kid was able to get crossed by her,” she said.
Why is such a hit with the kids?
“I don’t talk down to them; it’s like I’m talking with anyone else,” she said. “I think a good many of them appreciate it. And so do the parents.”
That appreciation is not only apparent in the thanks, it also appears at Christmas. One of the best things she said is when Panera opened nearby, she got gift cards “up the yin-yang,” from parents and kids in all different dollar amounts.
Being a crossing guard isn’t just making sure the kids and adults are safe, it’s about being prepared. She says she checks the weather before leaving the house to be sure she knows how many layers of clothes to wear.
While waiting for the kids, she sits atop her 1985 Yamaha Maxim motorcycle (or in her car when it’s pouring rain) and reads.
“The godsend was when Kindle came out,” Errichiello said. “I don’t have to take my mittens off to turn pages.”
What’s it like to work in the town she lives in?
“It doesn’t’ make a difference. I could be doing it anywhere,” she said.