'Crossing Guard of the Year' loves her work


School crossing guard Julia Barlow, center, hugs Alachua County Sheriff's Office FST Toni Fulton as Sheriff Sadie Darnell stands by upon Barlow being recognized as the Alachua County School Crossing Guard of the Year during School Crossing Guard Appreciation Day at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-purpose Recreation Center in Gainesville on Friday.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.

Under the shadow of an elm tree, Julia Barlow watches Friday’s traffic roll down Archer Road near where Archer and Tower roads intersect.

Fat clouds pepper the sky, and power lines sway in the winter breeze. It’s 1:40 p.m., which means the children from Wiles Elementary won’t start showing up for another 20 minutes.

“Ah, I’ve got some time to think,” the 77-year old crossing guard said. She folds her hands behind her back and smiles.

Although Gov. Rick Scott proclaimed the first Friday in February as School Crossing Guard Appreciation Day, Barlow didn’t change her routine.

She woke up on Friday as usual for her 7 a.m. shift, where she helped a young girl unscrew the cap to her chap stick, and she worked until 9:15, by which point everyone who crossed her street corner was safely in class.

The biggest surprise of her day came at an appreciation breakfast at the Martin Luther King Center off Waldo Road, where she received the annual Alachua County Crossing Guard of the Year Award.

At the time, she was sitting in the front row, occasionally leaning forward to catch a glimpse of her fellow crossing guards as they received their awards.

She remembers Toni Fulton’s kind words at the presentation.

“Every year we pick a guard of the year,” the officer from the Sheriff’s Office said. “And every year it gets harder and harder.

“This year, someone seemed to stand above the rest a little. This year’s Alachua County Crossing Guard of the Year Award goes to Julia Barlow.”

Barlow was stunned. She accepted her award with a calm smile, then wrapped one arm around Fulton.

“When she called my name, I was just flabbergasted,” she said.

But now it’s back to work.

She steps out of the shadow and onto her corner: Archer Road and Tower Road, right by the Shell gas station. The sun shines off her brown sunglasses. She’s wearing a green hat and wears a neon green shirt. A stop sign is cradled under her arm, and identification tags jingle when she moves.

When a bus swings around the intersection, she waves.

“I do love my job,” she said. “I get to help people and try to make them smile.”

Usually, she said, she’s humming hymns. Sometimes she’s thinking happy thoughts. Every day, she says she sends out silent prayers to all the children she directs across the street.

Her zone covers nearby Wiles Elementary School and Kanapaha Middle School.

If they need help with their bike, she holds it, and if they just need a friendly face, she provides it.

“I check up on the kids when they’re sick and wave and tell them I’ll see them tomorrow,” she said. “It’s my job.”

To pass time, she reconfigures words, she said. Eight years on the job teaches you when you can and can’t relax.

“I’ll see how many words I can get out of the word ‘tower,’ ” she said, pointing to the street sign.

“There’s ‘tow,’ ‘two,’ ‘row,’ ‘rower,’ and ‘rot,’ and ‘we’ and ‘oar.’ Oh, yeah, I could get lots of words out of that.”

She looks back at her post and further north up Tower Road.

Past a lonely shopping cart, a young girl on a purple bike approaches.

“Hey,” Barlow says. “This is Faith, the girl whose chapped stick cap I held this morning.

“Hi, how’s your day?” she asks the girl.

Faith smiles and says “good.” She’s a fifth-grader at Wiles.

Barlow presses the cross button, and the light changes immediately. She catches Faith’s attention with a look, then heads out with her stop sign.

She blows into her whistle as she steps onto the street.

She’s a little over 5 feet tall, but she’s a force standing in front of the stopped cars. Once Faith finishes crossing, she scurries back her to corner.

The traffic then starts slowly rolling through the intersection again.

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