Ruth Van Koughnett

Ruth Van Koughnett

Education includes safety outside school

Ruth Van Koughnett is a different kind of educator for an hour each school day.

Ruth Van Koughnett is a different kind of educator for an hour each school day.

The educational assistant at Eastview Middle School dons a yellow safety vest to become a traffic cop to monitor student safety at the 40th Avenue and 39th Street intersection.

“It’s a really busy corner for about half an hour,” she explained.

“The traffic flow has become heavier in the last few years.”

Although many schools’ staff oversee parking lots, Eastview is an exception because of the junction’s “sheer volume of traffic and kids,” said principal Dean Pasiuk.

Former principal Stu Henry, now a Red Deer Public Schools’ deputy superintendent, assigned the monitor in 2006 after two students were struck – one seriously – within a week.

“It really helped settle that intersection,” he said.

Van Koughnett spends each morning from 8:30 to 8:55 and afternoon from 3:33 dismissal to 4 ensuring students cross safely, including skateboarders, and cyclists use helmets and don’t ride through crosswalks. Problems are rare and dealt with firmly and quickly.

“Some of them I have to write up a behavioural slip for if they aren’t being safe.”

She also watches for vehicles blocking crosswalks.

“Drivers running red lights are a problem and sometimes I have to step out and say, ‘There’s a crosswalk here.’ ”

She calls the corner “safer now than in past years,” crediting a City of Red Deer traffic study.

Still, some drivers remain impatient and unsafe.

“I understand the panic to get to work, but I have a job to do: get those kids across safely.”

The bike lane that runs along 40th Avenue remains confusing for drivers, yet Van Koughnett feels that will improve in time.

“It takes a while to get a system going. I appreciate the city trying to get people more active, but that means a change in a lot of people’s days.”

Afternoons see far less traffic and risk since students dropped by parents ride buses home.

“I can see all three bus stops near the intersection.”

A bonus for students is her rapport with them and her sunny disposition.

“I try to know all the kids,” said Van Koughnett with a hug a periodic reward for her greetings.

Pasiuk said although a girl was struck last year — “it was just a bump, but it could have been much worse” — the corner’s safety record is “remarkable. It’s mostly because of Ruth. If not for her, I’m sure we’d have a plethora of accidents.”