Not all heroes wear capes, or so the saying goes. In the case of Cunningham Elementary student Lidia Esquer and former Cunningham student Xiana Garza, heroes wear the bright, fluorescent vests of the Eagles Squadron – the safety program that allows fourth, fifth and sixth graders to help students navigate the school parking lot and surrounding crosswalks safely. The two sixth graders were honored Friday morning by AAA Northern California in a School Safety Patrol Program awards assembly for their outstanding safety skills.
The AAA School Safety Patrol Program is in its 96th year, providing safety and awareness to students as they access school zones in the form of student supervisors. The program equips patrollers with the skills and resources needed to ensure children commute to and from school safely, with more than 620,000 patrollers in schools nationwide. The Eagles Squadron of Cunningham is led by Assistant Principal Joaquin Galvan and provides students with not only the opportunity to keep the school safe, but the chance to develop imperative leadership skills as well.
“The program gives them strong leadership skills and confidence because they have to follow the rules and be a role model,” said Galvan. “When you have students that are strong in leadership and have confidence, they’re going to be able to have self esteem, move forward and try new things as they get older.”
Esquer was one student who exemplified those skills, leading Galvan to nominate her for the Patroller of the Year Award. She was chosen as winner out of approximately 300 nominees from the region, which includes schools from the Central Valley and some parts of the Bay Area. Esquer has been a reliable, trustworthy member of the Eagles Squadron for two years. In addition to her participation on the patrol, Esquer also took part in a school-wide drama promoting anti-bullying, tutors other students and volunteers during lunch with intramural sports.
“I trust her,” said Galvan. “She always gives me input on what needs to be fixed or guidance on what they do on the playground and out in front of the street. It was a no-brainer for me that she was the Patroller of the Year for us.”
The AAA Lifesaving Medal is the highest honor that the School Safety Patrol Program has to offer, with only 411 patrollers winning the award since 1941. Garza, who now attends Walter White Elementary in Ceres, received the award for her quick thinking that saved the life of a first grader during her time in the Eagles Squadron.
Early in the school year, Garza was directing traffic in the parking lot. As Garza encouraged the cars to continue moving, a first grade student snuck past her, directly into the path of a large van. Before Galvan or any other nearby adult could process what was happening, Garza reached forward and yanked the student back to safety.
“I thought, ‘Whoa! Something just happened. She just saved someone’s life,’” said Galvan.
In his 10 years helping with the School Safety Patrol Program, Galvan has never had a student win the AAA Lifesaving Medal.
“Having Xiana win that award and knowing that she made a difference by saving a life, it truly makes me feel like these kids and this program is helping us make a difference,” said Galvan.
AAA Affiliate and School Safety Patrol Representative Ricardo Jimenez presented both Esquer and Garza with individual plaques for their accomplishments, along with $75 gift cards to Target.
“It’s extremely special,” said Jimenez. “There are a lot of schools in our region and not everyone receives these awards. At the end of the day, I think it’s a good eye-opener for kids; she saved somebody’s life and this program definitely helps because it makes them aware of what’s going on around them.”
Along with both awards, AAA Northern California also donated $3,000 to Cunningham’s Parent Teacher Association for school safety items such as cones, whistles and stop signs, as well as anything else the school may need. AAA also donated $200 to provide the Eagles Squadron with a pizza party and six tickets to the San Francisco Giants game on May 25 to celebrate AAA School Safety Patrol Day. 25 additional baseball tickets were donated by the Giants so that the families of the students can also attend the game in which their children will be honored.