Ursula Coleman begins and ends her day out standing in the intersection of Gordon Avenue and 14 Street Northwest.
“The biggest thing about stepping into the intersection is that you have to remind yourself that it’s your intersection,” said Coleman, an officer with the Charlottesville Police Department.
Coleman commands traffic there — moving cars efficiently through, watching for speeders and making way for children to cross the street to Venable Elementary. She’s served as the school’s crossing guard for two years and for 2019 year was one of six winners of the state’s Most Outstanding Crossing Guard Award.
The Virginia Department of Transportation runs the award through its Safe Routes to School program. Coleman and the others were selected out of 300 nominations from 70 crossing guards.
In 2016, Ruth Hill, the crossing guard for Clark Elementary, was a recipient of the award.
Wednesday is Crossing Guard Appreciation Day, a statewide event.
Coleman said she was surprised and flattered by the award.
“She greets everyone cheerfully while never wavering a moment from ensuring safety for all,” according to VDOT. “She knows the children, which makes them feel welcomed and valued before they even set foot in the school. To top it off, she is patient, gracious, and excels at keeping our children safe and moving traffic efficiently.”
On Tuesday, the afternoon pick-up moved quickly. The children were across the street, and buses had departed in less than 10 minutes after Venable dismissed students for the day.
Mornings are much more hectic, she said. Her Fitbit logs the morning shift as 25 minutes of aerobic activity.
“I don’t know how many cars come through here [in the mornings],” she said, but estimated that it’s a couple hundred.
She prefers the morning shifts, which start at about 7:30 a.m. They remind her of her time as an Army air traffic controller.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s a big puzzle.”
When she’s not at the intersection, Coleman works for the traffic division of CPD.
Her favorite part of being a crossing guard is the children. She knows them by name and which way they’ll go home at the end of the day.
“They’re so nice and cheerful,” she said.
As a crossing guard, she can be a bit goofier than she can on her regular beat. For Christmas, she wore reindeer antlers and bells. On Friday, for Valentine’s Day, she plans to wear heart-shaped sunglasses.
“I like the fact that they get to see someone from the police department in a different light,” she said. “I have enjoyed becoming part of the community. That’s what this job has done [for me].”