The Florida Department of Transportation has named Pasco County crossing guard Don Niles as the state's School Crossing Guard of the Year.
- State honors 'Mr. Don' for his work at Double Branch Elementary School
- He decided to be a crossing guard after retiring from previous jobs
- Students, parents know Don Niles cares about education
"It's so nice to be recognized for doing something that you love to do," Nile said.
Niles became a crossing guard eight years ago after retiring as a state corrections department probation officer and postal worker.
"I'm not going to sit at home and vegetate," Niles said of his decision to become a school crossing guard. "I'm going to be involved. So, what is the best place in the world to be involved? Your children."
"He's awesome," said Hailey Kean, a second-grade student at Double Branch Elementary School.
Hailey's mother, Victoria Kean, agrees.
"It's wonderful. It gives the kids something to look forward to every morning. He keeps an eye on them when they're going up to school and making sure they cross," Kean said.
So excited to introduce you to “Mr. Don” Niles! He’s the 2017 #Florida School Crossing Guard of the Year. I’ll tell you what made him stand out among the state’s 5,000 crossing guards and how he’s making a difference in the lives of @pascoschools students! @BN9 pic.twitter.com/wGwFvYxA1t— Sarah Blazonis (@SarahBlazonis) February 2, 2018
Niles mans the busy intersection of Chancey Road and Meadow Pointe Boulevard across from Double Branch. He greeted students and parents by name as he helped them cross Friday morning.
"I'm 'Mr. Don,' and if any kids have any problems, they know that they can talk to me," he said.
While waiting to cross, Niles checks in with students, asking how they're doing in school and telling them to have a good day. He sponsors four classrooms at Double Branch to help teachers buy supplies. When Christmas, Easter, and Halloween roll around, he provides 76 students with small gifts.
"He's a really nice and positive guy. He's always so joyful and he's never down," said fifth-grader Nathan Helm.
"He said that he looks up to me as a role model for the little kids," said Nicholas Jenkins, another fifth-grader.
"They look up to me, but it's a mutual respect, you know? I have a respect for them," Niles said.
Niles said his work as a probation officer drove home the importance of getting a good start in life – a message he tries to communicate to students during classroom talks.
"Right now, we're building a foundation," he said he tells them. "I want you to work with your teachers here because your teachers and myself are building the foundation of your life, and you have to be a participant in that."
Niles is 76 years old and said he has no plans of retiring from his crossing guard position anytime soon.