San Jose desperately needs more crossing guards
A crossing guard at Ocala STEAM Academy in Alum Rock Union School District helps students cross the street at the end of the school day. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Rain or shine, crossing guards guide students to class at the beginning and end of every school day. But a swath of San Jose districts are missing that familiar face.

    School districts across the city are struggling to hire crossing guards in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials and school leaders said the shortage means more children are left vulnerable on a daily basis crossing busy intersections.

    Michelle Barte, the program manager for San Jose Police Department’s School Safety and Education Unit, said crossing guards are trusted members of school communities. The city needs to fill about 80 vacancies out of 262 positions.

    “It’s not just getting a child from point A to point B across the street. Our crossing guards are essentially the eyes and the ears of this department because they’re out there on a regular basis,” Barte told San José Spotlight. “They get to know their children, the parents, the guardians. They typically see who belongs there and who doesn’t, so they’re also tasked with looking out for the greater safety of the children.”

    The police department is responsible for hiring and placing guards in the city’s school districts. The positions are part-time and up to 10 hours a week at a rate of $26.45 per hour. Potential applicants need to pass a background check, own a California driver’s license, complete eighth grade and be vaccinated against COVID. Applicants can apply online or by mail and will go through an interview process.

    Nicole Aghazarian, a crossing guard stationed at Ocala STEAM Academy in the Alum Rock Union School District, said the number of guards took a dive during COVID-19 distance learning. She’s been on the job for more than five years and also works as a substitute teacher at the Mount Pleasant Elementary School District. Decked out in a neon yellow jacket and sunglasses while carrying a hefty red stop sign, Aghazarian said she enjoys interacting with students, even if the drivers are testy. 

    “People don’t want to stop all the time,” Aghazarian told San José Spotlight.

    Barte said many guards, who are retired and can work around school schedules, worried about getting COVID when in-person learning resumed. And hiring has been difficult in general, Barte added, as residents contend with the region’s high costs of living and move out of the area.

    Districts are still struggling to find substitute teachers and bus drivers as more educators are priced out of Silicon Valley or face burnout as students return to classes. A 2022 study revealed that a worker in San Jose needs four minimum-wage jobs to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

    The shortage means some school districts have intersections without crossing guards, Barte said. The protocol is to make sure each intersection has at least one guard, but some are so busy that they need multiple people. Guards can shift around and school districts are given advance notice, she added.

    “We’ve tried to use our resources wisely so that other locations are not impacted,” Barte said.

    Evergreen School District spokesperson Johanna Villareal said nine of the district’s 16 middle and elementary schools do not have crossing guards. Evergreen’s busier intersections can have up to two crossing guards, and the district has asked for parent volunteers to step in. The district enrolls more than 9,500 students.

    “(Crossing guards) help a great deal with student safety and there is order in traffic during drop off and pick up,” Villareal told San José Spotlight.

    Aghazarian said she’s happy to brave the weather and laughed as she compared it to her whitewater rafting experiences. 

    “It’s a lot of fun… you’re part of the community,” she said. “I don’t mind the weather.”

    Find more information about crossing guard roles here and learn how to apply.

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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