March 21, 2006 > Crossing Guards
by Vidya Pradhan
You may have honked at them, shaken your fist at them, ignored them or avoided them, but they do one of the most important jobs in the city. They are the school crossing guards.
With just a vest, stop sign and whistle, crossing guards man 17 crossings in 14 schools in Fremont. Their job is to make sure children coming to and leaving school cross the road safely. In the absence of a stop sign or a traffic light, they act as the traffic wardens for their particular street.
Richard 'Mac' McQuade, supervisor at All City Management Services (ACMS), speaks passionately about the challenges faced by these hardy souls. Once staffed by community police, the crossing guard job is now contracted to ACMS. Mac is responsible for hiring, training and assignment. He also pitches in when one of his crew is sick. He shakes his head at all the crazy things that he has seen parents do.
At Oliveira Elementary, for instance, parents have been known to get out of vehicles street side and make a dash across the street. Making illegal U-turns is a common problem at many schools. Crossing guards also have to deal with cars blocking the crosswalk and most dangerous of all, just ignoring the stop sign and speeding through the street.
Clyde Shireman is one of the guards on Mac's crew. He mans one of the most dangerous crossings in the city at Centerville Junior High. Clyde used to work for AAA as a supervisor but got tired of retirement and decided to work as a crossing guard over 3 years ago. His job takes only about 3 1/2 hours each day but every day it is challenging and stressful. About 2 years ago, Clyde and a student were hit by a speeder ignoring the signs. Clyde got off with minor injuries but the student had to be taken to the hospital by the paramedics.
Jeannie Whitford worked for 31 years in the semiconductor industry before retiring. She joined Warm Springs Elementary as a lunchroom aide but soon began helping students cross the street voluntarily when she realized how dangerous it was for them to get to their parents' cars after school. Eventually she joined Mac's team. Her biggest complaint is that parents are often distracted by cell phones.
Every year, Mac and his crew file a hazard report for each school and turn it over to the traffic department in the Fremont Police Department. The reports are illuminating. Each school has its own peculiar problems. At Ardenwood Elementary, it may be cars making a hazardous right turn from Deep Creek to Macbeth while the children are still crossing. At James Leach Elementary, red light runners are a problem. At Forest Park school, new immigrants to the country are unfamiliar with traffic rules and tend to jaywalk across Deep Creek Road.
The best the crossing guards can do is cite repeat offenders to the traffic police. The police then send a warning notice to the car owners but that is the extent of action that is currently taken. Earlier, motorcycle cops would patrol trouble areas and hand out tickets on the spot. With budget cuts in the city, that department is more or less defunct. Raquel Trujillo, an officer in the traffic section, emphasizes that the safety of school children is a high priority for the city. However, in the absence of more enforcement officers, it is up to the crossing guards and the Junior Safety Patrols (JSPs) to keep the kids safe.
JSPs are run by the children from the school who work as a team to man those crossings where crossing guards are not available. At a school like Ardenwood Elementary, where there are several crossings, two teams of school children supplement the main crossing guard. Their effort is recognized by the city in an annual picnic.
There are several suggestions for improving the traffic situation in our schools. Mac thinks it would be a good idea for parents at the school to take up this part-time job. He believes they would become invested in local children, form close connections with the school and engender more respect from the other parent drivers. At some schools, additional protection could come from adding a stoplight or stop sign at a particular crossing. The PTA's of some schools record the scofflaws on video to be turned over to the police. For the moment, it is up to parents and drivers to make sure that kids travel back and forth from school safely - a tough job done by crossing guards.
To enquire about joining as a school crossing guard, call Richard "Mac" McQuade at (800) 540-9290.