ROSELLE PARK, NJ — Children in a packed auditorium were asked what to do if a “Do not cross” signal were to begin flashing while they were crossing the street — and not one knew the correct response.
One student selected from the audience at Roselle Park Middle School thought it would be OK to turn around and go back; another said to run the rest of the way across the the street.
Kaylee McGuire, a coordinator for Safe Kids Union County and Children’s Specialized Hospital, told the group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders that the correct answer is to keep walking at a normal pace to prevent any turning cars from hitting a pedestrian who was running across, she said. McGuire told students they should only cross the street at the end of the block, not in the middle, to reach their school, although there is no crosswalk available directly in front of the school.
“I know it’s a pain in the neck to have to walk down the block to cross the street, but it’s for your safety,” McGuire said at the assembly.
The pedestrian-safety assembly was held Oct. 4 to coincide with International Walk to School Day. Safe Kids Union County, which provides local residents car-seat checkups, safety workshops and clinics to prevent children from getting hurt, staged the assembly in conjunction with Children’s Specialized Hospital. Roselle Park Police Chief Paul Morrison, Capt. Daniel McCaffery and officer Greg Polakoski also took part. Pedestrian safety, especially during the school year, is an issue everywhere, the chief said.
“It’s basically to increase safety among the children,” Morrison told LocalSource at the assembly. “How to be safe when walking to school and kind of be aware of not only vehicle traffic, but also not to use your cell phone. Don’t text when you’re walking. it’s very dangerous. Unfortunately, we see a lot of children do that these days.”
To show just how dangerous texting while walking is, McGuire selected two random students to participate in an experiment on stage. She asked them to take out their phones and to text while avoiding stepping on a disarrayed pattern of cones.
The two kids did it easily. But when asked what numbers two volunteers were holding up on huge markerboards in front of the course, the students were at a loss. In 2015, there were 453 pedestrian deaths among people aged 19 and under in the country, and 44 kids are struck by cars and killed or injured every day in the United States, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. And 81 percent of pedestrian deaths among children happened at locations where there was no intersection, according to the organization. Amara Riccio, who was struck by a vehicle in Staten Island in 2008, shared her story with students.
“I was thrown 12 feet in the air and I lied under a car,” Riccio told the students. “People weren’t sure if I was alive or not … I had a traumatic brain injury and had to go through rehab and therapy.”
FedEx volunteers were also on hand to put on a presentation outside the school, showing how difficult it is to spot a child standing behind a truck. The assembly was part of the school’s annual respect week, Roselle Park Middle School Principal Kathleen Carlin told LocalSource.
“Our theme this year is ‘Be Someone’s Hero,’ and the hero stands to help everyone respect others,” Carlin said. “So our bulletin boards and everything deal with superheros and being someone’s hero.
When someone is a hero for someone else or they stick up for someone, they get a certificate.”
Polakoski, the Roselle Park community police officer, said the event at the school was a good opportunity to interact with the public “outside of maybe what they would have expected.”
“Citizens associate a police officer being there when something’s going wrong, and that isn’t the case. We just want them to see we’re people, too, and we want them to be safe.”