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Girl in Charge

by Rochelle A. D’Agostino Salmon

Although it has been nearly five decades since I was a school safety patroller, those days on the Hammonton Elementary School force remain one of the milestone events of my life.

The year was 1971 and our elementary school population was spilling over into whatever neighborhood space was available. My fifth grade classroom was located in the basement of the First United Methodist Church blocks away from the main school building and grounds. My class was its own one-room schoolhouse tucked away from the bustle of the regular school happenings.

One afternoon my teacher, Miss French, pulled me and my friend, Andy Crawford, to the back of the classroom. I was certain we were in trouble, but much to my surprise, Miss French told us that we had been selected to serve on the school safety patrol. Proudly, I put the gold belt over my right shoulder and clasped the buckle in front. The shiny silver badge was pinned right on my shoulder strap. I had been transformed. From then on, I was “girl in charge.”

In fifth grade I was responsible for Mrs. O’Brien’s second grade class. I lined the boys and girls up each morning and escorted them safely from the playground to their classroom, then gathered my own school books and ran all the way to my own classroom in the church building. At lunchtime, I ran back to the second grade building and picked up my charges from the cafeteria and marched them safely out to the playground for recess. After I had them settled back in their classroom, I ran to meet my class for lunch. As a fifth grade patroller, I learned how to be a leader, I learned a lot about time management and how to stay organized. I also learned to travel light and run fast.

By 1972, my sixth grade year, school crowding in our town led to split school sessions, an A.M. session and a P.M. session. Helping make up patroller schedules and getting them to the places they needed to be at the times they needed to be there gave me the skills of a young air traffic controller.

My hard work during those first two years on the force earned me the “Lieutenant” spot as a seventh grader. I was a serious patroller that year wearing the bright orange belt with the Lieutenant badge, silver with a special red face. A big part of my job as a Lieutenant was working closely with our local State Trooper, Trooper Foody. I helped schedule the monthly safety meetings for our school squad. I also learned about running meetings, complete with making up meeting agendas and taking meeting minutes.

In the early 1970s at a time when the women’s rights movement was reaching the national spotlight, I was already becoming a young woman leader. I didn’t know it then, but, my three years on the school safety patrol was quietly paving the way for all girls like me to become leaders. Thank you to the AAA School Safety Patrol Program for giving this young girl an historic opportunity.

Happy 100th Anniversary.