Parents, students lose ‘grandmother’

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For the past 37 years, Ann Parotta has enjoyed spending her mornings and afternoons outside Little Neck’s PS 221, helping generations of students cross the street safely at the intersection of busy Marathon Parkway and 60th Avenue.

But Monday afternoon Parotta, 67, had tears in her eyes as dozens of students waved good-bye to her.

PS 221’s crossing guard since the Johnson administration, Parotta spent her last shift before retirement hugging teachers, talking to parents and protecting children from as they crossed the street.

“When I started here there were no traffic lights,” she said in an interview before her final shift. “I will miss the children, especially the little ones. The nice part is seeing them grow up.”

Asked why she had decided to retire, Parotta said simply “it’s time.”

Her colleagues at PS 221 said having the longtime crossing guard retire was like losing a relative.

“It’s difficult to see her leave,” said school aide Paula Beberman.

Judy Brambrut, a second-grade teacher at the school, said “she’s really been part of our family. She’s the most special woman and has been a gift to our school for 37 years.”

When Parotta was offered the crossing guard job in 1965, she saw it as a way for a young mother to be with her three children.

“When my youngest went to school, I took [the job],” said the 45-year resident of Little Neck. “This was ideal. I love it — I feel like I work in the school even though I work outside.”

Now a grandmother, Parotta said a greater number of students taking the bus as well as having more parents drive their children to school have had her job more difficult.

“You have to have eyes behind your head,” she said of watching students cross the street with all the traffic. “No one ever got hurt with all the years I’ve been here.”

One of the most frustrating things about the job, Parotta said, are parents who double or triple park while driving their children off at school.

“I wish they would be a little more careful when they’re dropping their kids off,” she said.

Physical education teacher Diane Bilello said Parotta’s emphasis on safety was a bonus for PS 221.

“She was a very caring and loving crossing guard,” Bilello said as Parotta helped students walk to the other side of Marathon Parkway. “She was very effective and she went out of her way to make sure she kept them safe. When she’s here, nobody worries.”

Now a grandmother, Parotta said she has not decided what she will do after retirement but said she would not be far from the school.

“I’d like to volunteer,” she said.

Diane Capezza, who was picking up her son Thomas O’Brien, 7, said Parotta would be missed.

“She’s very reliable and we feel very safe and secure with her here,” she said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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