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Crossing with care: Hyde Park crossing guard brings connection, positivity

COMPASSION+AND+CARE.+Tanya+Sullivan%2C+a+crossing+guard+who+works+outside+Ray+Elementary+School%2C+considers+interacting+with+kids+as+the+highlight+of+being+a+crossing+guard.+%E2%80%9CYou+learn+a+lot+from+meeting+kids+from+many+different+schools%2C%E2%80%9D+she+said%2C+referring+to+the+diverse+group+of+students+she+encounters+daily.+
Olin Nafziger
COMPASSION AND CARE. Tanya Sullivan, a crossing guard who works outside Ray Elementary School, considers interacting with kids as the highlight of being a crossing guard. “You learn a lot from meeting kids from many different schools,” she said, referring to the diverse group of students she encounters daily.

At 8:05 a.m. on a cloudy Wednesday morning, the scene at the corner of East 57th Street and South Kimbark Avenue is somewhat chaotic, but the crossing guard, a fixture at this intersection, is always calm. Car horns beep as school kids, weighed down by backpacks, weave their way through the busy traffic. 

Amid all the commotion, a lively woman dressed in a bright, neon yellow jacket and clutching a red stop sign smiles warmly as she halts cars and guides packs of kids safely to and from Ray Elementary School. 

Tanya Sullivan, who has been working as a crossing guard for 26 years, fosters a unique connection with students by bringing an upbeat and positive attitude, thoughtfully remembering their birthdays with gifts and brightening their days. 

A South Shore native and one of over 700 crossing guards for Chicago Public Schools, Ms. Sullivan has been a member of the Hyde Park community for a long time. 

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She remarked that during her time as a crossing guard, she has watched generations of families attend Ray School. 

“Some adults even stop their cars and come back to say hi to me. They say, ‘You’re still here Tanya?’ Now I’m crossing their kids, so I know I’ve been here too long,” she said, laughing. 

While Ms. Sullivan didn’t always want to be a crossing guard, the kids in the community have encouraged her to continue working. 

“I LOVE the children!” Ms. Sullivan said, waving her hands with emphasis. “That’s why I’m here every day — for them. Their safety is very important to me, and I learn a lot from them.” 

As well as watching out for students safety, Ms. Sullivan shows her commitment by supporting student extracurricular activities. 

“One child was dancing in the Joffrey ‘Nutcracker’ downtown and invited me to come along,” Tanya said. “I also attend student graduations and award ceremonies. It’s always amazing to meet new people and listen to them.” 

U-High ninth grader Eva Neves, who passes by the intersection on her daily walk to and from school, appreciates the gifts Ms. Sullivan gives students to celebrate special occasions. 

“I remember on the day of eighth grade graduation, she gave me a really cool bracelet, which was really special,” Eva said. 

Similarly, Adele Sorkin, a current seventh grader at Kenwood Academy who attended Ray Elementary for seven years, is touched by Ms. Sullivan’s compassionate gift giving. 

“I remember one year, she had all these little presents, and as people would walk to school, she would hand them out, and she had obviously thought about it,” Adele said. “She’s just filled with so much affection.”

Ms. Sullivan’s positivity and infectious positive energy inspires many Hyde Park residents, including Edgar Garcia and Alexis Chema, who live a few houses down from Ray School.

“She brings a feeling of intergenerational care,” Ms. Chema said. “She is there for everyone. She is there for the little kids, the middle schoolers, and to say hi to the adults.” 

Mr. Garcia added, “It’s an everyday joy to see her. She has always got a big smile and is so happy to see the kids. She makes the little corner of 57th feel like home.”

This story was originally published on U-High Midway on May 15, 2024.