TROY, Texas — Before the sun is up, Richard "Rick" Aalsma is outside of Troy Elementary School helping children get to school safely.
“I think this is my sixth or seventh year, not sure," said the crossing guard. "I think they gave me my five-year pin last year. Nobody's counting though.”
Rick picked up the stop sign and safety vest as a way to stay occupied.
“I retired and I needed something to occupy my time, and one of the parents that my wife had their child in daycare said something like well, they're looking for a crossing guard," he recalled. "So I went down and applied, and Ms. Drumming, the principal here, had seen fit to hire me.”
He is not originally from Troy, but quickly became an integral part of the community.
“We moved to Troy in 1977," Rick said. "I'm originally a Yankee from Wisconsin. I'm a cheesehead… whenever the Packers win, you will see me out here with my Packers cap on and everything else, just rubbing it in to the Cowboy fans.”
He says it's the community that makes this job so special.
“I have a very... fondness of all the kids who walk by here.," said the crossing guard. "There's all different kinds of life and things and different interactions with them, and it's neat to see them grow up really. It's almost like having a very, very big extended family.”
But there's a potential problem brewing in school districts across the country. Administrators are facing shortages of teachers, bus drivers and school crossing guards.
"I think parents feel that this is a local problem because they feel it with their own school district, but this is something that we're seeing across the country," said Joanna McFarland, CEO and founder of HopSkipDrive, in an August 2021 interview.
According to the TASB Risk Fund, in 2019, more than 6,000 crossing guards reported to their crosswalks across the state. Many school districts say COVID-19 has caused that number to drop.
Rick is not one for the camera, but he understands how important his job is outside of safety.
"How impactful do you think your position is on all of these kids?" asked 25 News reporter, Sydney Isenberg.
“I really don't look at it as being impactful, but my wife keeps telling me that they all look at you," Rick replied. "And I do not like what we're doing right now. I don't like the notoriety or anything else. I do not like to be center stage. I just like to do what I do here and interact with the kids, really. But I, I hope that just one I could help stay on the right track versus going something wrong. But then if I do just one, I feel it's very, very important.”
It's not the highest paying job for Rick, but it means the world to him.
“You're not going to get rich doing it here," he said. "You're not going to get anything, and then I take out my candy money and everything else and the wages go down a little bit more, but it's just how it makes you feel as a person. I guess that's richer than money many times.”
After the sun comes up, and students have filed into class, Rick heads home to prepare for another day.
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