Confidence. Commitment. Respect.

They are the traits of leadership that must be learned somewhere. For millions of kids—and many more yet to come—that somewhere is the AAA School Safety Patrol program, where student volunteers help their classmates stay safe.

Throughout its 100-year history, Safety Patrol has reduced injuries and fatalities among children across the United States. Just as important, it has shaped students who would go on to become leaders—there are presidents, Olympic medalists, astronauts and U.S. Supreme Court justices among Safety Patrol alumni. And many more have kept the spirit of the AAA School Safety Patrol program with them throughout their lives.

Here are three families’ stories of how membership in AAA School Safety Patrol inspired them.


Two of a kind

They say they were introverted and lacked confidence. To meet them now, you’d never know it.

Timothy and Timiah Sinclair have a sense of awareness and confidence that you don’t see in every teenager. And their participation in AAA School Safety Patrol played a part in where they are today—on a path to something special.

“Serving as a Safety Patroller gave me more confidence and the belief in myself that I can go out and do things that I saw other people doing,” Timothy says. Adds Timiah: “What made me want to be more active in my community was being a Safety Patroller.”

The siblings were a grade apart at Richard L. Brown Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Their parents had stressed the importance of helping their community, and, with that in mind, Timothy joined Safety Patrol in fifth grade.

As a patroller, he rotated through different stations, from the art room to the bus area to the car parking lot, learning new skills in each place. One post that stood out: standing by a hallway water fountain, moving classmates along who might be dawdling in order to miss class.

“I was uncomfortable at first because I didn’t want to tell them no,” he recalls. “But I grew the confidence to speak up and say, ‘You were here 5 minutes ago; go back to class.’”

That growing confidence helped Timothy stand out among students from more than 3,300 Florida, Georgia and Tennessee schools to be named Regional AAA School Safety Patroller of the Year in 2013. Seeing the recognition her brother received, Timiah joined Safety Patrol the next year. (There is admittedly a bit of sibling rivalry here.) She followed his lead, honing her leadership and public-speaking skills and winning Florida Safety Patroller of the Year in 2014—the first time a brother and sister won back-to-back honors.

During AAA School Safety Patrol Appreciation Day at Universal Orlando Resort, a crowd of more than 750 people listened as Timiah shared an essay she had written titled “On the Road to Leadership.” She was nervous—as any fifth grader would be.

“Writing the essay was the easy part,” she recalls. “That was my first real experience of public speaking, and it really pulled me out of my comfort zone.”

Honorable ambitions

For both siblings, that one year in Safety Patrol helped propel them to success. Timothy attends the University of Florida on a full academic scholarship. He aspires to be a Harvard University professor or perhaps a judge—maybe even a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Timiah is in 12th grade and plans to attend Florida A&M University.

Both are very active in their community through church, student ambassador programs, service groups and more. Timiah, for example, tutors at-risk students, something she began while in Safety Patrol. The life skills they learned in fifth grade remain relevant today.

“Being a part of Safety Patrol can open a lot of doors,” Timothy says. “Everyone starts from somewhere. You learn and grow through experiences; the only way you get those experiences is to get involved and put yourself out there.”

Quiz only available online


Serving students builds confidence

Becky Copenhaver has a special gift waiting for her granddaughter Kennedy: the pin that Becky received in sixth grade as captain of her school’s Service Squad. Like Safety Patrol, Service Squad gave elementary school students the opportunity to work in a leadership position in their school. What gives the pin added meaning is that Kennedy also served in her school in the same way in 2019 as a fourth grader.

“I don’t think she knew I was in Service Squad. I was really surprised when she said that’s what she wanted to do,” Becky says. “She was very excited. That’s why I wrote her a note and told her that the pin would be hers.”

Managing students

Becky was a fifth grader when she joined Service Squad in the 1960s. Then, as a sixth grader, she was selected to be Service Squad captain for the school.

“It was prestigious for me,” she says. “I was in charge of giving all of the squad members their positions for the week—if they were helping in the office or in a classroom. Every week, I had to change that up.”

Where Safety Patrol focused on giving boys responsibilities outside the school building, Service Squad focused on giving girls a role inside the building. Responsibilities for squad members included helping children put on their coats and boots, delivering snacks to kindergartners and walking them to the buses when school let out.

It was for her service as captain, supervising about a dozen other students, that Becky received her pin.

Helping in the classroom

Kennedy has followed in her grandmother’s footsteps. She had seen fourth graders helping in classrooms, so when she got to fourth grade and her teacher explained the opportunity, she was interested.

“I like volunteering for things, and I like being in the classroom and organizing stuff,” Kennedy says. “We helped get the classrooms ready in the morning, like sharpening pencils. And in the afternoon, we erased the boards and stacked the chairs.”

Today, Service Squad and Safety Patrol have merged; both boys and girls can perform duties inside or outside the school building. As a fifth grader this year, Kennedy had hoped to continue her participation—monitoring hallways and entrances—but all classes have been online.

Being a role model

Kennedy’s mother, Kristin, also participated in the program while she was in elementary school in the 1980s.

“It was a chance to be a role model in the school as an upper elementary student,” Kristin says. “I took pride in that and appreciated the opportunity.” She added, “We also got to wear sashes, which was pretty cool.”

“Any position like that—whether it’s Service Squad or student government—helps give students confidence in how they relate not just to their fellow students but also to administrators,” she says.

Looking back

“A lot of my good friends were also involved in these kinds of elementary opportunities,” Kristin says. “They’ve all developed into really impressive people who are doing great things. I don’t know what the correlation is, but I do feel like for the people who are drawn to trying those things as young students, it’s helpful in the long run.”

When asked why she chose to keep her pin for all these years, Becky says the position of captain that the pin represents meant a lot to her. “I guess I was flattered that I was made a captain that year. It was just very special to me because I knew there was only one girls’ captain and a boys’ captain [for Safety Patrol] every year. That was quite an honor.”


The path to public service

When he was in school, David Jarmusz was in awe of a special group of students. Many of them played sports, but the fact that they were all Safety Patrollers, volunteering to help classmates stay safe at school, was just as important. You can imagine David’s excitement when, as an eighth grader, he was asked to join.

“It was long hours and a lot of responsibility,” David recalls about his year—1965—in the AAA School Safety Patrol. “But being out there—you started to learn about public service and leadership.”

David remembers the busy corner he patrolled: 112th Street and Ewing Avenue. The intersection carried the most responsibility for a patroller outside Annunciata School in Chicago. He shared the corner with a Chicago police school crossing guard. Her eyes stayed on the traffic; his stayed on his classmates. When she stepped into the intersection to stop traffic, David helped hold back younger students until it was safe to cross. When kids tried to cross the street away from the intersection, David would guide them back to the corner.

He volunteered five days a week, three times a day (students could go home for lunch and needed help then, too). David would arrive at school earlier than other kids and get home later. And he endured the bitter cold winds blowing off nearby Lake Michigan. But what the work lacked in perks, it made up for in life skills.

“No matter how hot or how cold it got, I never wanted to quit,” David recalls. “I learned perseverance, staying out there and toughing it out. That was the beginning of finding out about leadership—not only worrying about myself, but other people, too.”

Serving in Safety Patrol had a profound influence on David’s career. After working in a steel mill out of high school, he spent 42 years as an officer in the Chicago Police Department, rising to the rank of district commander. In his job, he had to evaluate crossing guards twice a year, and he would tell the guards about starting his career in Safety Patrol.

“The school guards got a kick out of that,” says David, who remains a member of AAA today.

A worthy tradition

David’s dedication to public service runs in the family. His son, Nick, attended the same school, and when Safety Patrol called for volunteers, Nick stepped forward.

“More than anything, it was Dad’s example that he set in terms of volunteerism,” Nick recalls as a reason for joining, citing his father’s work as a Cub Scouts leader and Little League coach. “This was an opportunity to volunteer and help others the way Dad always did.”

Nick spent three years in Safety Patrol, serving as a captain in eighth grade in 1995. He didn’t patrol the same intersection as his father, but he found similar life lessons through the experience. Nick remembers one message from his patrol advisor: “Even when you don’t feel like doing it, you made a commitment to Safety Patrol, and you need to see it through.”

“That was a very important lesson,” Nick says.

Like his father, Nick works for the public good. Since 2007, he has been with AAA’s The Auto Club Group, currently as a public affairs director. When he started the job, Nick’s mother dug through family keepsakes and found his Safety Patrol captain’s badge. It’s now framed and sits on his office desk.

One of Nick’s favorite annual tasks is reviewing nominations for Safety Patroller of the Year. “I get to hear about these amazing students who are volunteering their time,” he says. “You can tell they’re going to do great things in their future.”

The Jarmusz Safety Patrol story doesn’t end with Nick. His son, Peter, joined the patrol last year as a fourth grader at his elementary school in Wisconsin.


AAA School Safety Patrol: Through the Years

Charles M. Hayes, then president of the Chicago Motor Club, is credited with building the infrastructure and providing the resources so other AAA clubs across the U.S. could protect school-aged children walking to and from school. Hayes witnessed several children at a school crossing get killed by a speeding car. He pledged to help prevent such tragedies from happening again.

Three national organizations—AAA, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and the National Safety Council—collaborated on Standard Rules for the Operation of School Boy Patrols. These guidelines were updated over the years to become the operating standards for AAA School Safety Patrols.

The Lifesaving Award Medal—the highest recognition bestowed on patrollers—is established. More than 430 patrollers have since received this award for saving the life of a person who was in imminent danger.

Celebrating its centennial, the AAA School Safety Patrol Program includes more 679,000 patrollers in 35,000 schools nationwide.

This story was featured in the
May 2021
issue of AAALiving Magazine

Do You Have a Safety Patrol Story?

Share your memories with us on Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #AAAForLife.