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Valley Crossing Guards Prepared For New School Year

(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
Mesa Police Office Mike Ibarra lectures crossing guards about traffic laws in school zones at a training session at the Mesa Convention Center.

Thousands of Valley kids are going back to school soon and the people who help them cross the street safely are brushing up on their skills. Local crossing guards have been attending training seminars and they’re ready to go.

A busy stretch of road near Jefferson Elementary School in Mesa is just one of many locations where a crossing guard will be working. Cars and trucks zoom by in the school zone but, in a few days when classes start, people are going to have to slow down.

“They’ve kind of forgotten over the summer that the children are out there and to look for them because they don’t always look out for you” said Margaret Boone with the Maricopa Association of Governments.  It organized the crossing guard training sessions. In Mesa this week, about a hundred crosswalk workers are watching a video.

A lot of these guards are retirees, concerned parents or simply people who want a part-time job. 

Normand Rancourt, 74, has been working crosswalks at Sirrine Elementary School in Chandler for almost a decade. He said it’s a family affair.

I work with my wife, we both do it, we see the kids every day and its something I love to do. I’m not going to retire, they’re going to have to carry me out" Rancourt said.

He said these training sessions keep him at the top of his game. Rancourt has been off work all summer. He’s getting a refresher course on how to dress for the job including reflective vests and floppy hats, and more about traffic laws, like no walking kids across the street when a vehicle’s tires are in the crosswalk. Plus proper placement of school zone road signs. 

Did you know there’s also a right and wrong way crossing guards are supposed to use those hand-held stop sign paddles? Melissa Kent said it’s not as easy as it looks.

"The only time that I really have problems is when its really windy. The sign feels like its going to take me away with the wind, so sometimes I have to use both hands, but it's not a problem," Kent said.

She has been a guard at Crismon Elementary School in Mesa for about a year. Kent said crosswalk workers put their life on the line.

“There was a lady that was probably going more than 45 miles an hour through a school zone and actually caught air going over a bump in the street. She didn’t even stop at the corner that was 50 feet away, and went around the corner on two wheels. I was just in amazement,” Kent said.

"Speeding, unsafe passing, not stopping for the kids, not stopping for the adults in the area,” said Mike Ibarra who has been a Mesa police officer for two decades.  He said he’s seen all kinds of dumb moves by drivers in school zones. He said the most common mistake happens when people are in a hurry.

“If there’s already a car in the school zone doing a certain speed, you can’t pass that car even to acquire 15 miles an hour. If you pass it that’s an illegal movement,” Ibarra said.

That can be expensive. In Arizona speeding violations in school zones are doubled and in Mesa it could cost you up to $500. Brandon Forrey is a transportation planning engineer with the city of Peoria.

“The fines are by far the highest in the city of Peoria. They exceed $680. So, if there’s one place in the Valley you don’t want to get caught for a fine in a school zone, it’s Peoria,”  Forrey said.

Valley police officers will be out in big numbers looking for violations during the first few weeks of the new school year. Mesa’s police department even got a state grant to pay officers who work extra hours monitoring school zones. 

KJZZ Senior Field Correspondent Steve Shadley is no stranger to the issues shaping Arizona.