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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Schools face shortage of crossing guards

By Adrienne Ancheta
Advertiser Staff Writer

As the traditional school year begins today, O'ahu's 147 schools are facing a substantial shortage of crossing guards.

Makalapa Elementary School crossing guard Kathy Wright stops traffic at the intersection of Ala'oli Street and Salt Lake Boulevard. Wright is the only crossing guard at Makalapa.

Kyle Sackowski • The Honolulu Advertiser

About 20-25 percent of available school crossing guard positions on O'ahu are unfilled as the school year begins, despite police fliers advertising the positions and an increase in hourly wages from $9.65 to $10.05.

Overall, about 35 to 40 of 170 positions are unfilled, and the remaining 130 to 135 crossing guards will be distributed among 147 schools, said traffic Sgt. Guy Yamashita of the Honolulu Police Department.

Students at Likelike Elementary, for example, who are only a block from the busy Vineyard Boulevard on-ramp and off-ramp to the H-1 Freeway, have been crossing streets to school without the aid of a trained adult crossing guard since school began Aug. 1.

"Parents are taking a chance to have their kids walk by themselves" in the Likelike area, said Noelani Aki, who is in charge of the school's junior police officers and who has been substituting as a crossing guard since May.

While many schools have student crossing guards, and parents and teachers often fill the gaps to assure safety, trained crossing guards who can assert authority on the streets are still needed and preferred.

 •  For information about crossing guard jobs, call the Honolulu Police Department at 529-3111, Ext. 9.
Yamashita said a lengthy application process, which can take more than a week, and split working hours at the beginning and end of the school day often deter people from applying for crossing guard positions. Multiple school start dates also have the Department of Education hard pressed to fill positions in a shorter time.

"We wish we had more," Yamashita said. "I hate to say it, but sometimes I think the (Department of Education) should handle hiring," because the Police Department's hiring process is so lengthy, he said.

The department hires guards as it would police officers, requiring vision and hearing exams and extensive background checks. Guards reapply every year, a requirement Yamashita would like to see altered to every two years.

Determining necessity

With so few crossing guards, schools such as Likelike sometimes can be left without guards while the department decides how to allocate its limited resources.

Makalapa Elementary School junior police officers and fifth-graders Vili Kakiwa and Kasandra Solano helped out crossing guard Kathy Wright yesterday afternoon.

Kyle Sackowski • The Honolulu Advertiser

"We look at the whole totality of the thing to determine if it's necessary to have crossing guards" at a school, Yamashita said. A large factor for the department is the amount of foot traffic logged by the school's students. For example, many students at Momilani Elementary in Pearl City are driven to school, so the need for a guard is not as high as at Ka'ahumanu Elementary downtown, where a high percentage of students walk.

Even high-traffic schools can be left out in the allocation, though, because applicants are sometimes willing to work only at certain schools, Yamashita said.

Many times Likelike and other schools try to find their crossing guards internally, either through parents and grandparents or school staff. Likelike has often started or ended the school year without guards because of the high turnover rate for the position. Most crossing guards are retirees (about 70 percent) or military people, and only 70-80 percent of guards reapply with the department at the end of the year, according to Yamashita.

Likelike parent Rizalina Barino has been crossing the Vineyard-Palama intersection for seven years with her three children and insists they walk with her to ensure their safety. Even as an adult, she feels at risk crossing the streets there.

"I can remember at least two close calls where I had to yell at the kids because they were walking ahead of me," she said.

She has learned to look drivers in the eye to make sure they stop because they often don't see the pedestrians, she said.

Safety first

Makalapa Elementary on busy Salt Lake Boulevard has a similar shortage. The school qualifies for two crossing guards but has never been able to find a second, said vice principal Elynne Chung.

Others, such as Wai'anae, Kamaile and Mililani Mauka elementary schools have sufficient numbers of crossing guards. Mayor Joseph J. Fern Elementary in Kalihi has been able to hold on to the same two guards for several years.

At Kapolei Elementary, two crossing guards were assigned to monitor the major intersections there. Though principal Mike Miyamura thinks another guard would be helpful, he is grateful for the two he has.

"They really think of the children's safety first," said Miyamura, who had to fill in as a crossing guard on a couple of occasions last school year.

"To me, you have to be able to grin and bear a lot that happens," he said. "My heart was pounding when I went out there."

Correction: A previous version of this story had an incorrect phone number to call for information on applying to be a school crossing guard.