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The Guardian of Seven Locks

Volunteer crossing guard helps in a dangerous stretch of road.

Every school bus that drives by honks at Jane Houston. For the past 11 years, the Scotland resident has been making a circuit at bus stops in the area of Seven Locks Road and Scotland Road, helping 18 bus stops worth of children each day as the get on and off the bus.

“They all know me,” Houston said.

Even school buses marked from schools in Washington D.C. and Arlington County, Va. honk and wave to her

“She’s there every day,” said Melvin Martin, a bus driver for Montgomery County Public Schools.

“You’ve got to protect these children,” Houston said. “I make sure they get home safe.”

Houston, a volunteer who has never been paid by the county for her work is part crossing guard, part babysitter and part security guard.

On more than one occasion, she has had to shoo away unsavory characters who she feels are hanging around the area of the bus stop for too long. “Someone could come and take one of these kids just like that,” she said.

“She asks us if we’re OK every morning,” said Bells Mill student Jessica Blalock, 10. She and two schoolmates were awed by the idea that Houston has been helping students at the bus stops since before they were born.

Houston’s position is made more difficult by the location. There are no sidewalks on Seven Locks Road, and a lack of turning lanes pushes some motorists, illegally, onto the shoulder to pass a driver making a left turn. (See related story page XX)

“I’m just afraid that somebody’s going to get hit crossing the street,” Martin said.

Martin and Houston have noticed an increase in the past few years of drivers, particularly in oncoming lanes, ignoring the flashing stop lights on school buses.

“The red lights on the bus are just like a traffic light,” Martin said.

As a bus pulled up to its stop in front of the Inverness North townhouse complex, Houston stepped out into the road and pointed at an oncoming car like someone scolding a pet. The car stopped.

“If I can, I take the license plates of the ones that don’t stop,” Houston said.

In an area home to many transients, some people come from places where stopping for a school bus is optional, said Lori Peters, president of the Seven Locks Civic Association. “It needs to be enforced and people need to be aware,” she said.

Martin has taken to turning his flashing lights on early and honking at motorists who don’t stop. He is petitioning his superiors at the school system for an air horn. “It’s going to wake people up,” he said.

A study of sidewalks along Seven Locks Road is currently in the County’s Capital Improvements project for FY 09. Until the sidewalks and other safety enhancements come, children and their parents on Seven Locks road will have to continue to rely on people like Houston.

“She does a really good job,” said Soma Bhattacharyya, a Bells Mill Elementary parent.

“I’m not going to let anybody hurt them,” Houston said. The retired woman doesn’t have any children currently riding the buses. “I love these kids like my own.”

“No one can probably take her position,” Blalock said.