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Don't Cross your Crossing Guards

They are the unsung heroes of the crosswalk -- protectors of school-aged pedestrians. Potentially aggressive drivers stand down from just one of their searing glances. (And if the glance doesn't do the trick, they'll call the police in heartbeat. Just try them.) And, while they're probably unable to leap tall buildings in a single bound, they cross children safely every morning and afternoon, to and from school.

"It's all about the kids," says veteran crossing guard and lifelong Norwalk resident Beverly Cotswell. "Someone's got to look after those kids." Beverly and Harold, her husband of 42 years, have been doing just that for some 38 years between them. The couple finesses the extraordinarily busy crosswalk that abuts the Jefferson Elementary School , safely ferrying children through the painted rectangular boxes lining the street.

And according to Norwalk Police Sergeant Lisa Kotto, they're eminently equipped to do just that. The guards -- a stable of 11 women and 12 men hired and overseen by the Norwalk Police Department -- undergo a yearly refresher course during which they review traffic laws, troubleshoot problems and discuss new issues that might arise, such as talking on cell phones while crossing kids. "It's absolutely not tolerated," says Sgt. Kotto.

They are each issued their tools of the trade: hand-held stop signs, traffic vests and cones, which they are expected to take to the job each day. And their reflective vests are roomy enough to accommodate whatever outdoor gear is required. "Yeah, we're out there no matter how bad the weather is," says Harold. "The kids have to go to school so we have to be here no matter what."

The Cotswell's four adult children all went to Jefferson Elementary School, and two of their six grandchildren attend now. Beverly, who became a guard when her children were students, enjoys crossing her grandchildren on their way to school. "I get to see my grandkids every day, and that's a nice thing," she says.

How long will these two retirees protect young perambulators? Harold's got it all figured out: "I'm going to do it 'til I can't walk anymore."

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