With Loudoun County Public Schools beginning a new year Thursday (Aug. 23), parents are busy preparing backpacks and lunch boxes while teachers are decorating classrooms and finalizing lesson plans.
To help ensure safe passage between home and school, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office’s crossing guard program is also gearing up for another busy school year.
LCSO Crossing Guard Supervisor Franziska Gutierrez said her crews are ready for the first day of school, although there are still some openings for people looking for part-time work.
“When we are at full capacity, we have room for 54 guards,” Gutierrez said. “Right now, we are nine guards short.”
Gutierrez said anyone interested in a crossing guard position can apply online at loudoun.gov/jobs or contact her directly at 703-771-5735. Guard are still needed at Balls Bluff and Catoctin elementary schools in Leesburg, Mill Run and Hillside elementary schools in Ashburn and Sterling Elementary School in Sterling.
When there aren’t enough crossing guard for every post, LCSO deputies fill in. Gutierrez said it can be a fulfilling job for people who can work with somewhat unusual schedule.
“It’s only two hours a day, with one in the morning and one in the afternoon., so it can be hard to find a person that can work with that schedule,” she said. “We have people from all walks of life. Some are NOVA students or students who do online classes, stay-at-home moms or people who work from home and people who combine this with other part-time work. Then, we also have a number of retirees.”
Gutierrez said most people can handle the job, but she stresses one important job requirement.
“They have to be very reliable,” she said. “They need to be there on time, doing their job to the best of their ability and dressed accordingly in their uniform.”
Gutierrez said new crossing guards are required to complete a short, online training course and then they receive the bulk of their training on the job.
“It usually takes about three days of training, but we stay with the guard until we feel they are safe and comfortable being left alone,” she said. “We take them to their assigned school and train them on the job.”
Gutierrez said guards face extra challenges at the start of each school year, working with the pedestrians they are protecting as well as drivers getting used to schools being open.
“At the beginning of the school year, the guard spends time talking to the children and adults to make sure they wait until all the traffic is stopped,” She said. “The guard will step out and make sure all traffic is stopped before they tell the kids it’s OK to cross. Sometimes that is a little challenging.”ll
She said the main issues with drivers are the same things that are problems outside school zones.
“We’re facing a lot of distracted driving, and a little bit of road rage,” she said. “School zones can get really busy and when the traffic backs up people can get a little impatient.
“We tell our crossing guards to try to make eye contact with the drivers and to be aware of anything that can happen. That goes for drivers and walkers alike.”
If drivers just won’t comply and follow instructions, crossing guards can report them to her for possible enforcement action.
“We tell them to get the license plate number, what kind of car it is and a brief description of the driver,” Gutierrez said. “We kind of talk about exactly what went on and if we feel something needs to be done, we will pass it on to our lieutenant to see if a deputy can take over. Fortunately, we don’t have too many of those kind of reports. We might have two or three a year that were severe enough to get a deputy involved.”
Gutierrez said may guards spend years working at a given post and get to really know the students they are protecting.
“To the guards, it’s like they become their own kids,” Gutierrez said. “Their protection is very important to them.”
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is also offering the following tips for students and parents from the National Transportation Safety Board to help make this a safe school-year:
Walking to School
• In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider starting a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
• If your child is young or is walking to a new school, walk with them the first week to make sure they know the route and can do it safely.
• Bright colored clothing will make your child more visible to drivers.
• Do not push or shove others when you walk.
• When crossing the street, look left-right-left for cars. Do not cross if a car is coming and use a crosswalk if available.
Riding your Bicycle
• Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
• Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic.
• Use appropriate hand signals.
• Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
• Wear bright color clothing to increase visibility.
• Know the “rules of the road.”
•Never use headphones or cell phones while riding.
Tips for Motorists
• All passengers should wear a seat belt and/or an age- and size-appropriate car safety seat or booster seat.
• Do not text or talk on your cell phone while driving.
• Slow down and obey all traffic laws and speed limits.
• Be alert for school zones that have a reduced speed limit at designated times of the day.
• Watch for school buses. Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm indicate the school bus is stopping to load or unload children. State law requires you to stop.
• Keep an eye out for children walking in the street, especially where there are no sidewalks.
• Be alert for children playing and gathering near bus stops and for those who may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
• When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch for children walking or biking to school.
• When driving in neighborhoods or school zones, watch for young people who may be in a hurry to get to or away from school and may not be thinking about getting there safely.
Tips for Students
• Always buckle up when riding in a car. Be sure to remove your backpack before getting in the vehicle. Never buckle your safety belt with your backpack on.
• Always ride in the back seat. It’s the safest place for young people.
• Always wear a helmet and follow traffic safety rules when riding your bike.
• If you ride a school bus, learn and practice the safety rules for waiting at the bus stop, getting on and off the bus, and riding the bus.
• Never wait for the school bus in the roadway.
• If you walk to school, learn and practice the safety rules for pedestrians. It’s extremely important for you to use sidewalk when available, look left-right-left when crossing the road, and always walk facing traffic.
• Always cross at cross walks; obey all traffic signs, traffic lights and crossing guard instructions.
• Teen drivers should avoid speeding and distractions while driving, such as texting, talking on cell phones, eating and adjusting the radio. Teens are also reminded never to overload their vehicle; everyone riding in a vehicle must use a safety belt.
• Be a good role model for your younger brothers, sisters and friends, and help them learn and follow vehicle safety rules.