MODESTO — The need for someone to help young children cross busy streets as schools let out got a tragic underscoring this week. At some schools, professionals work the crosswalks. At others, staff members do extra duty as the school day starts and ends. But most campuses rely on the nearly century-old tradition of student safety patrols.
Nearly half of Modesto City Schools elementary campuses have at least one paid adult who monitors crossings, and all but one have safety patrols with an adult leader earning a stipend, district spokeswomen Becky Fortuna said Friday. That one is Fairview Elementary, a campus facing an open field across a fast-moving section of Whitmore Avenue, with no close cross streets.
Tuolumne Elementary, where a 5-year-old died Wednesday after stepping in front of a city bus, uses student patrols and a yard duty supervisor to monitor the street. When morning kindergarten let out, however, safety patrol members still were in class.
Kindergartners normally wait for parents to come get them, but on that rainy day, witnesses said, Alex Fernandez saw his mother across Herndon and ran out in the street toward her.
Tuolumne has about 20 fifth- and sixth-graders in the school safety patrol program who help students across Herndon and Sonora avenues each day, said Principal Tonja Cargill. The school tried this year to shift parents waiting in vehicles to Sonora, but problems on Herndon continue.
A letter sent home with Tuolumne students March 12 said vehicles were driving through safety-patrol-manned crosswalks. We have witnessed drivers ignoring the stop signs and nearly running over students, the letter says.
A Safe Routes to School Guide on student drop-off and pickup (at http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org) depicts seven problem scenarios, including chaotic parking, midblock U-turns and children running out to cars in traffic lanes. All were observed by visitors Wednesday and Thursday along Herndon as school let out.
But solutions presented by the guide would be difficult at the 64-year-old campus, which was built in the days when school buses or walking parents took children home and less traffic traveled the small enclave south of the Tuolumne River.
Five miles away, 50-year-old Rose Avenue Elementary has a somewhat similar street configuration. Both schools sit on corner lots on well-traveled residential arteries. Both have a street that Ts into the front of the school, packed with cars coming, going and maneuvering for parking at key school times. Both have permanent stop signs at school crossing areas manned by the school safety patrol.
But where drivers on Herndon seem to ignore the patrols and even the stop signs, vehicles along Rose Avenue generally follow the rules.
Along Rose Avenue, 10 safety patrol guards and two captains man the T and corner intersections for half an hour before and after school, Principal Diane Scott said. Four students help pedestrians cross Rose Avenue to Primrose Lane and across Primrose. Six students deploy at the four-way intersection of Rose and Wylie Drive.
The captain at each intersection monitors students and has two-way radio contact with the schools traffic patrol supervisor, also on scene.
Scott said the school has about 30 fifth- and sixth-graders in the program. All safety patrol students go through a training before going out on patrol. They must pass a written test, two training sessions and two sessions shadowing other patrol members on duty, she said by email.
Training and adult support and oversight is essential, according to the online AAA School Safety Patrols operations manual. Millions of boys and girls have served in safety patrols since their start in the early 1920s, notes the manual. Roughly 50,000 schools now have safety patrols nationwide.
Patrols direct children, not traffic, the guide says, adding that the school-age leaders in traffic safety teach their peers and serve as role models for younger children. When traffic issues arise, the manual advises patrols to seek adult help.
Adult crossing guards guide students across busy Yosemite Avenue by Wilson Elementary. Thursday, Principal Sue McHann shared online photos of one of them.
She said they receive phone calls from complete strangers saying how the crossing guard makes their days as they look for her genius hats and outfits, Fortuna said.