Kids are only half the equation at school crosswalks

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24 2011 3:36 p.m. MDT

Crossing guard Steven Bleak guides children across the street to Harry S. Truman Elementary School, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. Bleak was the crossing guard of the year in West Valley City for the 2010-11 school year. A new statewide school crossing guard training program has been launched by UDOT.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Despite the common handheld stop sign, reflective orange vest and the courage to step out in front of moving traffic, not all crossing guards are the same.

A new training program, however, aims to put them all on the same page when it comes to student safety.

"You can never have too much information or be too prepared," said Misty Nicol, who walks her son to Truman Elementary School almost every day. Her second-grader doesn't love going to school, but Nicol said the relationship the boy has with the local crossing guard "helps him get there."

The kids sometimes call him "grandpa," but 70-year-old Steve Bleak, who comes highly recommended as a crossing guard, doesn't mind. The five-year veteran said it means they trust him.

"It's rewarding to watch the kids grow up over the years," Bleak said. "I would've done this all my life if I could have made a living at it."

His two 40-minute daily shifts don't stop with getting the kids across the street, as Bleak said he'll throw himself in front of a car if he has to, to protect a child.

"Those kids are my primary responsibility," he said.

While he's never had to take such precautions, Bleak said persuading cars to slow down or stop is one of the hardest parts of his job. He waves to nearly every car that passes on 3200 West, to bring more awareness to himself and the School Zone crosswalk.

He's grateful for the latest upgrades to crossing guard protocol, including a new training DVD and handy quick reference guide. He said the things he teaches kids who walk to school and hopes will be remembered when they each become drivers themselves.

Crossing guards are typically provided by a partnership between school districts and municipalities. But law enforcement, which fills in the gaps, wants each to be similarly trained and requested an updated program.

All crossing guards are required to complete some type of training, which includes a review of basic first-aid and CPR, as well as current city policies. The Utah Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program has also produced a new, updated 15-minute video that showcases the responsibilities and job duties of new crossing guards.

"What is more important than the safety of a child?" said Dale Ann Wright, a child safety official with West Valley City. While the state sets regulations on how many crossing guards are needed — based on the number of children who walk to school and the traffic volume in those areas — Wright said they are most important on streets without signs and/or traffic signals.

"Crossing guards don't have the authority to direct traffic," she said. "Their authority is the pedestrians. They need to know how to safely clear an intersection and create a safe environment for the children."

UDOT program coordinator Cherissa Wood said current and previous crossing guards helped to develop a more hands-on approach to the new training.

"It's all about incorporating safety as kids walk to school," she said, adding that the program is most effective when crossing guards are assisted by parents and motorists to help set an example for pedestrians.

"If we all obey the laws, things flow better," Bleak said.

While he hopes he's teaching them lifelong lessons, he said the kids "learn real quick they have to wait for me before they cross."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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