Bridget Graba doesn’t personally know Kiiesha Tolbert, the crossing guard at J. F. Drake Middle School. But she feels like they’re friends.
That’s because every school day, rain or shine, Tolbert can be seen delivering safety with a smile — waving, pointing and blowing kisses to cars, buses and students passing by the school’s entrance at the intersection of North Donahue and Cary drives.
Graba wanted to do something to highlight Tolbert’s upbeat attitude and infectious smile, so she sent a message to the school district.
“I would like to thank the crossing guard at Drake Middle School who, no matter what the weather is like, is out on North Donahue at the entrance with a big smile and a wave hello to everyone in the mornings and afternoons,” the message from Graba said. “She really makes a lot of people’s day better!”
The district shared the message on its Facebook page last month. As of Tuesday, the post had more than 460 likes and more than 100 comments. All the comments are positive.
“She’s the best! I don’t even have children at Drake and we still wave and smile as I pass ha!” one person wrote.
“Always waves as I go by each morning and she doesn’t even know me!!!” another person commented.
“Kiiesha is wonderful. She is always sending me kisses and it makes my day,” another person said. “When I see her I can’t help but smile. Makes driving that school bus fun.”
Tolbert’s still getting used to all the fame. She never expected something like this to happen.
“I’m actually speechless,” said Tolbert, 29. “I’m still shocked about it.
“It makes my heart flutter. The overjoy of the love and the support from the community and the kids.”
Tolbert started working as a crossing guard for Auburn City Schools two years ago. She applied for the job because it was something she thought she would enjoy.
“This is actually the first job I ever had,” she said.
Tolbert lives about a mile from the school and walks to work every day.
She radiates positivity as a human traffic light from 7:10 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. in the mornings and 2:55 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the afternoons.
“I love it,” Tolbert said of her job.
The crossing guard performs her duties with the finesse of a maestro, blowing her whistle and waving her hands to let students know it’s OK to cross the street.
Her unique traffic control style comes from her interactions with the students and motorists who pass by. One of the bus drivers inspired her to blow kisses.
“I’ll probably be laughing out there in the street, so one of them might point at me and say, ‘What (are) you doing?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Nothing,’” Tolbert said. “Or … I might wave … and blow a kiss at them to let them know they can go or just (send) love toward them.
“Whatever they bring to me, I’m going to give it right back.”
Drake Principal Sarah Armstrong said Tolbert deserves all the praise she gets.
“She really embodies what it means to love what you do, and I love that she models that for our students,” Armstrong said. “They can see somebody who is really passionate about their work and passionate about encouraging and showing joy to other people.”
Tolbert does a great job keeping students and motorists safe, but the thing that’s most appreciated is her attitude, Armstrong said.
Community members who aren’t even affiliated with the middle school have reached out to commend Tolbert for helping them start their day off on a positive note.
“It’s almost like a show, like a little bit of a performance every day,” Armstrong said.
Tolbert knows some of the students by name, and can recognize some of the vehicles and faces of people who come through the intersection. Sometimes people bring her gifts, like body lotion or Gatorade. Students will give her gift cards. The other day a woman brought her sweet tea.
“They didn’t tell me — they just went to McDonald’s and got me a sweet tea,” Tolbert said. “They’re like, ‘Thank you for all the work you do.’”
Students will say hello and goodbye, and tell her to have a great day or weekend. They tell her they were thinking about her or thank her for helping them cross the street.
The middle school only teaches sixth graders, so it’s bittersweet when they have to move on to seventh grade. Tolbert gets attached to them.
“I just want to tell them ‘Stay with me,’” Tolbert said. “They just make my day.”