By Jim Newell
For five years Penni Robertson has stepped into Flintridge Street near Joslyn Road holding her stop sign high and beckoning Carpenter Elementary students to cross the street, one eye on the motorists, the other on her charges.
Now, when Robertson wades out into the street – with a smile for the kids (and the glare for encroaching motorists that says without saying “You better watch out for my kids”) – she’ll do so as America’s Favorite Crossing Guard.
For her dedication in keeping Carpenter Elementary walkers and bikers safe, Robertson has received the first “America’s Favorite Crossing Guard” recognition from Safe Kids Worldwide and FedEx during an awards ceremony March 1 at Carpenter.
“Each and every day Mrs. Robertson and crossing guards across the nation help get students to and from school safely, across busy roads, in rain, snow or sunshine. She is also the first person from Carpenter that our walking or biking students see each morning, and the last person from Carpenter that these students see as they leave,” said Carpenter Principal Adam Weldon.
“She is able to forge a very special relationship with these students and help them either start or end their day with a smile. She cares about each and every one of the students here at Carpenter as if they were her own. This is all part of the reason that she won the title of America’s Favorite Crossing Guard,” Weldon said.
Robertson, a 49-year-old mother of two, joined Lake Orion’s Carpenter Elementary in 2012 and has worked as a staff associate and crossing guard since 2013.
During that time, she has come to know most of Carpenter’s 467 students, just as they’ve come to know her as Mrs. Robertson or Mrs. Robbie.
Robertson, who was surprised at the level of attention, said she enjoys the interaction with the kids and the parents the most.
“The best part of my day is when I get to see the kids. I see them all day long because I’m here all day. But when I’m out there I see my select few – my crossers. It’s being with the kids, seeing the kids.
“It’s a very busy street. I have a lot of kids and next year I’m going to have even more kids, so it’s nice to know that I’m appreciated and it’s worth, that they’re paying attention,” Robertson said.
“What we looked for when we were reviewing the nominations was compassion, dedication, commitment to the job. And Penni held all of those attributes. She does this every day with a smile on her face in rain, snow, sleet. So, that was really important,” said Kristin Rosenthal program manager of U.S. Pedestrian & Bike Safety with Safe Kids Worldwide.
Eight teachers submitted on her behalf. There were 38 nominees for the award throughout the United States.
“She had more nominations than any other crossing guard that was nominated. And the sheer number of nominations really stood out to us. That there were so many people who went out of their way to submit a nomination support her as America’s Favorite Crossing Guard. It was really amazing,” Rosenthal said.
In addition to the title of America’s Favorite Crossing Guard, Robertson also received gifts from Safe Kids, and recognition from local officials.
The Carpenter Elementary students took turns giving Robertson a plaque, boots, jacket, windbreaker and vest from Safe Kids.
Orion Twp. Supervisor Chris Barnett presented Robertson with a certificate as the township’s Citizen of the Month for March 2017.
Oakland County Board Chairman Michael Gingell presented Robertson with a proclamation signed by all 21 county commissioners.
Katherine Van Tiem, deputy of chief of staff for Congressman Mike Bishop’s office, also presented Robertson with a letter of recognition.
“I would say that crossing guards are road safety rock stars,” said Shane O’Connor, communications advisor with FedEx. “And they’re just not recognized and we want to get them recognized because they play such an important role in the community.”
Safe Kids and FedEx have previously recognized Canada’s Favorite Crossing Guard for years, but this is the first recognition in the U.S.
“We’re very excited. We’ve worked with Safe Kids in 10 countries. We’ve reached more than 15 million children over the 17-year partnership with road safety messages, so it’s been a great working relationship,” O’Connor said. “I’ve always wanted to bring it down to the U.S., so finally this year we’ve started America’s Favorite Crossing Guard.”
Robertson said she knew that school was putting her in for the award because she had to fill out a release form.
“But I had no idea that we won. They really got me on that one. He (Adam Weldon) surprised me hugely. I’m usually the one running around doing all the surprises for the staff, but he had all the kids in here (the gym) and then opened the doors and I went ‘Oh my gosh.’ My heart stopped, my heart stopped, I couldn’t breathe. I peeked and I said ‘What’s going on?’ The kids were all laughing. They got me good. They got me good. Shocked me. Shocked me.
“I’m the one doing this for everyone else, I’m not used to this. It’s humbling, extremely humbling,” Robertson said.
SafeKids Worldwide is a non-profit in D.C. whose mission is to protect kids on the road, on their way to school, at play and at home, said Rosenthal.
Robertson was not the only one receiving gifts. FedEx gave each student in grades 1-3 the book, Clifford Takes a Walk, to teach them more about road safety, while students in grades 4-5 received a Road Safety Actions Book.
O’Connor also taught the students the FedEx pledge and each of them recite it:
F: Find a crosswalk.
E: Eliminate Distractions.
D: Do, look both ways before crossing the street
E: Eye contact, with drivers to make sure that they see you
X: Xtra Special, I believe each of you is extra special.