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The amount of traffic in and out of Auburn Middle School each day would keep Principal Bob Griffin up at night.
“On any given day, we have as many as 300 cars,” he said.
“We send the parents up that way,” he said, describing the scene. “They turn around and come back. The buses are coming and going. The staff is coming and going. Walkers are coming and going.
“As a principal of a school, that’s what kept me up at night,” Griffin said.
Now, he can sleep a little easier thanks to Josh Harris.
Every parent who drops and picks up their child each day, every student who walks or rides their bike to school and every driver who sits behind the wheel of a bus knows who Harris is. They just don’t know his name.
He’s the man that makes life much easier for 200 parents, 70 staff members, a dozen bus drivers and an increasing number of students.
Harris directs traffic in front of the school each morning and afternoon. People know exactly what he’s telling them, but he doesn’t say a word. He’s that man from the movie “Top Gun” — sort of.
The 1986 American action drama starred Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Tom Skerritt. Cruise played Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a young naval aviator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
When Harris interviewed for the job he told Griffin a bit about his military service.
He graduated from Poland Regional High School in 2006 and served in the U.S. Navy from 2011-2015. He gave Griffin a visual description by waving his arms in the air as if he was directing aircraft.
“You mean like ‘Top Gun,'” Griffin asked?
“Well, sort of. But not as prestigious,” Griffin remembers Harris answering.
Griffin had his man. “I felt like chasing Mr. Harris out into the parking lot to offer him the job,” Griffin said.
Harris was a Navy plane captain. He made sure the aircraft he was assigned to was safe for flight and then, through hand signals, he would communicate with the pilot and help launch the jet off the carrier flight deck and out over the sea.
“It’s an amazing job that I was privileged to do,” Harris said.
Josh Harris graduated from Poland Regional High School before joining the U.S. Navy, where he launched jets from aircraft carriers. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
He was a member of Strike Fighter Squadron 34, known as the Blue Blasters, at the Naval Air Station Oceania in Virginia. He launched F-18 Hornets while at sea on the USS Lincoln for nine straight months.
“I’ve been around the world once,” Harris said.
At Auburn Middle School he supports special education students and those in the parent pickup line.
“You can sense his energy,” Bethany Cuetara said while waiting to pick up her son, Ben. “You can tell that he really fits into that role.
“There have been very few days when he is not out there and someone else fills in,” Cuetara said. “It’s just different. They do the best they can, and they do a good job. But Josh just rocks it.”
“I have gotten dozens of emails from parents and grandparents thanking me for Mr. Harris,” Griffin said. “I had one parent say that they could watch him all day. It’s as though he’s a maestro of an orchestra.”
“It’s all in the motions,” Harris said about his hands and the wands that light up in the dark.
He said he only uses a small fraction of the signals he learned in the Navy. Parents may want to pay particular attention if Harris looks at them and makes a figure-eight motion. That would mean their car is on fire.
“I am one of those people that really cares about what they do,” the 34-year-old father of one said. “My dad always instilled in me to be a hard worker.”
Cuetara said she spends over two hours each day taking her two children to and from two different schools and waiting in parent pickup lines. So having Harris making traffic run so smoothly is very helpful.
“Like the mailman, rain or shine. He is there for us,” Cuetara said.
“The principal told me that I am the first person parents see in the morning and the last person they see in the afternoon,” Harris said. “It was the same when I was a plane captain launching aircraft and bringing them in.”
“It comes both ways,” he said.
Josh Harris directs traffic Nov. 1 as parents pick up their children from Auburn Middle School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
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