HAINES CITY — Edgar Arnold has everyone’s attention.
Bethune Academy cadets and drivers alike depend on Arnold to direct them safely through his assigned intersection as a Polk County Sheriff’s Office crossing guard, located just south of the school.
And, as he easily excels at the job, he is making a difference in the lives of those he comes in contact with.
Holding a shiny red, large stop sign and wearing a bright green safety vest, Arnold is a figure larger than life to the elementary school students. At the beginning of each school year, the 60-ish public servant teaches the walkers (those who walk to school) the rules for crossing the road.
“One morning I had to run home for something. When I got back, the students were all standing at the line waiting for me,” he laughed. “They wouldn’t move ‘til I got back.”
He earns their respect subtly by building relationships with every little person who passes.
“I ask to see their (report) cards and know when their birthdays are,” Arnold said.
He also gives out small gifts for students doing well academically and in celebration of their big days.
Arnold is one of 135 crossing guards employed by the PCSO and celebrated on Crossing Guard Appreciation Day, which was held in February. There are also 26 substitutes and eight coordinators in the county.
About six years ago, Arnold was approached by one of those coordinators about becoming a substitute guard. He knew quite a bit about the job since his mother — “Miss” Claudy Strong — had been one for 25 years.
Arnold had retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 34 years and wasn’t really looking for work. But, one thing led to another, and his daily position is the same one that his mom had for all those years.
“This is a little piece of cake,” he said about the job and location. “I enjoy it. The school is good to me.”
Sharon Knowles, principal of the school, says Arnold is part of the Bethune Academy family.
The Haines City native said the best part of his day is watching the students come across the street safely while overseeing them from the center of the road. His personality is big and his smile bigger — as cars pass through, drivers wave to him and sometimes even toot their horn to get his attention.
But, the children and their safety is the focus of his attention.
“I need another set of arms so I don’t miss waving to anybody,” he said.
When he’s not working, Arnold said he loves watching sports and, during the summer, takes his grandsons to see their father in North Carolina. He has two other sons and seven grandchildren. His oldest granddaughter, Destiny, is in medical school.
Arnold said that, for the most part, drivers obey the speed limit and are cautious.
“Once they see me, they slow down if they aren’t already,” he said.