Heading back to school is always a busy time. Parents, students, and educators are all preparing for a brand-new school year. But one group of people take on an even greater responsibility to make sure students get to class safely – school crossing guards. More than 100 crossing guards recently gathered on a hot August morning to learn essential skills to help children safely get to and from school every day. The Regional School Crossing Guard Training Workshop is sponsored by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). This year’s event was held at Washington High School in Phoenix. It is the first time since the pandemic began that people could attend in person. For the past two years, the workshop has been held virtually. A Safe Walk to School “Crossing guards help ensure kids have the freedom and autonomy to walk to school and explore their neighborhoods,” said Mailen Pankiewicz of the City of Phoenix Street Transportation Department. “When you choose to walk, not only do we gain healthy habits, but we also help pollution and congestion issues and save the frustrations of being stuck in school traffic,” Pankiewicz noted. The workshop included essential information that crossing guards need to know, like the different types of crosswalks and the laws that govern them. Cities like Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Surprise, and Peoria were all part of this year’s in-person training in the Valley. “The importance of regional training is to provide standardized crossing guard procedures, so consistent practices are used regionwide to establish and reinforce driver expectations, regardless of the school district,” said MAG Transportation Safety Program Manager Margaret Herrera. “Crossing guards walk away feeling appreciated, knowledgeable, and empowered. This is what makes it special,” Herrera added. Some participants found it is not always just children who need help crossing the street. “For me, it was something new that I learned, because I thought we were only helping children cross, but it’s also about helping anyone else that is crossing the street in our crosswalk as well,” said Adriana Lopez, a Phoenix-area crossing guard who attended the workshop. Learning New Skills Prospective guards also learned what they must rely on to do their jobs safely and effectively. That includes plenty of people skills. “(I appreciated) everything they said about how to deal with parents crossing the street, because sometimes that’s a struggle, but we have to have patience with the children and with some parents, too, and that’s something key that I learned,” said Paula Zúñiga, another crossing guard who attended the training. Dealing with parents and traffic is just one part of the job. It also is essential for crossing guards to remember they are often the first person a student sees when they get to school in the morning and the last one when they leave in the afternoon. “Crossing guards perform their duties because they love what they do and because they want to keep our kids safe. They stand outside in the blistering heat and sometimes are disrespected by drivers. We can encourage our kids to respect the crossing guards, and starting with ourselves in respecting the work of these public servants when driving,” Herrera said. Slowing down when driving through school areas is especially important. Guards were reminded at the workshop that they are there to help get students across the street safely – not to direct traffic. Only a sworn officer can do that job. The workshop allows the workers to ask questions and receive advice on dealing with specific situations. Perhaps the most important aspect that these essential workers take away is that they also must take care of themselves. “They learn health and welfare aspects such as keeping hydrated, how to recognize stages of heat exposure, and general aspects of keeping themselves safe as they perform their duties. They can’t keep the kids safe if they are not safe themselves,” Herrera added.