“Good morning, Sammy. Is that your science project? It looks great.” A crossing guard greets an Irvine child with a smile, a word of encouragement, and the quiet assurance of safe passage across a street with heavy traffic. Many crossing guards actually know the names of all the children they help each day.
For thousands of Irvine’s younger students, the crossing guard is likely the first adult employee they encounter each school day. And this friendly, protective interaction each morning helps set the tone for the entire school day.
School crossing guards play a crucial role in the lives of children who walk or bicycle to school. Not only do they help children to safely cross the street; they remind occasionally thoughtless drivers that pedestrians are present.
Unfortunately, too many drivers are in a hurry. Yet others simply do not pay attention to the crossing guards. There can be a stiff fine for ignoring the crossing guards, but many parents — and others — do so anyway.
For a number of months in 2014, my friends and I visited Irvine schools early in the morning — when children first arrive at school — and in the afternoon when they are walking or biking home. The “morning rush” is the worst traffic at our schools — posing real dangers to children, and to our crossing guards too.
We saw drivers who were speeding, willfully ignoring the special speed limits posted at schools. Too often, we watched drivers bolt through crosswalks when small school children — led by a crossing guard holding up a “STOP” sign — were making their way from one side of the street to the other.
We also watched many parents park their cars across the street from the school, then dash across the busy street mid-block instead of using a nearby crosswalk or relying on the crossing guard. And, too many times we saw parents and other adults in the area actually arguing with crossing guards who had given them direct instructions.
As we begin a new school year, what can we do to increase safety for our children? It would be great if we reduced the automobile traffic at our schools. What if Irvine families pledged to take every opportunity to do more walking to school and less driving, and to do more carpooling where possible? And here’s another idea: Our school districts — both Irvine Unified School District and Tustin Unified School District — should be encouraged to establish a real school bus system for children who live a considerable distance from school.
Meanwhile, what we can all do right now is to make it a practice to leave a little earlier on school days, be extra careful around our Irvine schools, and respect and appreciate Irvine’s outstanding crossing guards and the very important work they do.