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The most dangerous job in a school may not be at school at all. A group of dedicated individuals, all across the state and the nation, get up early every school day regardless of the weather, put on a reflective traffic orange vest, take a short-handled stop sign and report to a school crossing near you.
The morning commute to work and to school are coincidental, but it does put a large number of cars trying to get through school crossings just when a large number of kids are trying to cross streets. This circumstance creates accidents waiting to happen, and the statistics from 2005 confirm that many did. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that, of school-age children from 5 to 15 years of age, 275 were killed and 15,000 injured in pedestrian/motor vehicle crashes.
Crossing guards are the first line of defense at many school crossings. With distracted drivers texting, using cell phones, eating, putting on make-up, shaving and any number of other non-driving activities, crossing guards should receive hazard pay.
"The Andy Griffith Show" had an episode with a crossing guard having both a stop sign and a bag of rocks (the guard was the mountain boy, Ernest T. Bass, for anyone who remembers that far back). While humorous, the episode pointed out the need for crossing guards to have some sort of deterrence capability.
Several states, including Idaho, are considering legislation that would allow crossing guards to report violations and have violators cited by law enforcement. A similar statute in Idaho for bus drivers has shown to have a large deterrent effect on bus stop arm violations.
School crossings are important in helping keep children safe as they walk to school. The National Safe Routes to School website describes the role of the school crossing guard in the following terms:
“The primary responsibility of an adult school crossing guard is to help children safely cross the street as they walk or bike to and from school.
"A well- trained adult school crossing guard can accomplish the following goals:
- Discourage children from behaving unsafely near traffic, such as darting into the street without looking or crossing against a traffic signal.
- Use existing gaps in traffic to help students cross safely. When the natural traffic flow does not allow enough time for children to cross a street, a guard may need to create gaps by stoping traffic temporarily. The Guard stops traffic with hand signals or a STOP paddle, then verbally directs children to cross the street. A guard is always the first person in the street and the last person out of the street.
- Alert motorists that pedestrians are in the process of using the school crossing.
- Observe and report any incidents or conditions that present a potential safety hazard to the school children or the guard.” Well-trained is the key, and Utah has been proactive in providing training for crossing guards. The West Valley City website notes the training requirements for crossing guards: “A crossing guard is required to complete eight hours of training, be CPR and first aid certified, successfully pass a police background check and drug screen, and a week of 'on the job' training with an experienced crossing guard.”The Utah Department of Transportation created a training DVD and booklet for crossing guards in the state. Called SNAP, the program is the state’s first comprehensive training program for crossing guards.
If you are 21 or older and looking for an important and rewarding part-time job, call your local law enforcement agency or school and consider serving as a crossing guard. And if you are commuting, watch for the folks with traffic orange vests and stop signs. When you see them, remember that kids are not very far away.
Guy is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guy has been married for 26 years and has three children.