When students arrived at Corinth Elementary for their first day of school Monday, a familiar face was missing at the intersection of Mission Road and 83rd Street.
For the first time in 13 years, someone other than Karen Chapman was there to help students cross the street.
The change, says Chapman, comes as a result of a shift in the way Prairie Village managed its crossing guard program. Between last school year and this one, the city moved responsibility for staffing crossing guards to a private company. The change was designed to help mitigate what were becoming burdensome workman’s compensation costs, and to help ensure that sworn officers were able to remain on their beats. In the past, officers would be taken off the streets to substitute for crossing guards who called in sick. Under the new arrangement, the company is responsible to find substitutes.
When the new company informed the current guards about its pay structure, Chapman realized she would probably take in around 30 percent less than she had before. That news made her consider whether it might be time to hang up her stop sign.
“I totally understand why the city has done this — I guess that, as a group, we were a lot to handle,” she said. “I started to think that, you know, you’ve done this for 13 years in all sorts of horrid weather. Maybe it’s time to move on to something else.”
Chapman, a Prairie Village resident, was something of an institution at Corinth, known for her constantly upbeat demeanor, and for biking to her shifts each morning and afternoon. She calculates that, in total, she’s made more than 1,900 trips on her bike to the school. She missed just four days of work in her 13 years as a guard — one of them when she got hit by a car in her second year on the job — and crossed 150 to 185 kids each day.
Her absence at the intersection represents the end of an era, for many parents. Lora Kokjer, who had at least one child enrolled at Corinth from 2006 until last year, when her eldest child finished sixth grade, said Chapman’s attentiveness and demeanor made her feel comfortable picking her kids up across Mission Road.
“Knowing Karen is hyper vigilant without losing the ability to make a personal connection with the kids is truly a gift that Corinth parents appreciate,” Kokjer said.
And while Chapman won’t be shepherding kids across the street any more, she won’t be a stranger at Corinth. She’s already volunteered to greet students at Corinth’s north circle drive in the mornings a couple days a week during the school year.
“I loved doing what I do,” she said. “And I figure I’ve got to make it to 2,000 bike trips.”