Every successful school day begins with students getting to class safely, and crossing guards help children and their parents in San Francisco navigate intersections near school campuses. In this episode of Taken with Transportation, we learn about the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's School Crossing Guard program. The program is part of the agency's larger effort to create safe and inviting streets.
We talk with SFMTA Crossing Guards Christian Frederick Lauser and Arturo Garcia, School Crossing Guard Program Assistant Manager and Acting Manager Karen Wong, SFMTA Parking Control Officer Angie Barosso, McKinley Elementary School Principal John Collins and San Francisco parent Hoa.
MELISSA CULROSS, HOST: Some of the first people children see when they start their school day are those who help them cross the streets near campus.
HOA, SAN FRANCISCO PARENT: He’s there to make sure that they cross safely. (:03)
MELISSA: Welcome to TAKEN WITH TRANSPORTATION, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s official podcast. I’m your host, Melissa Culross (MUSIC fades, NAT SOUND up)…and it’s time for morning-drop off at the Chinese Immersion School at De Avila on Waller Street…
RICKY: Morning Mr. Chris!
CHRISTIAN LAUSER: Hey, Ricky! Basketball today?
MELISSA: Before the students can go to class, they have to make it into the building, and that’s where Christian Frederick Lauser…or Mr. Chris…comes in.
DAD: Hey, morning, Mr. Chris!
CHRIS: (muffled) Good morning
DAD: See you guys
MELISSA: Lauser is an SFMTA school crossing guard.
CHRISTIAN LAUSER, CROSSING GUARD: I’m retired, collecting Social Security, and I just wanted to stay active. And I have a friend who, uh, has a friend in Muni, and they mentioned that there was, uh, you know, a crossing guard position available a few years ago. I had worked part-time at, uh, Hallmark in San Francisco Centre, and of course, that closed. So, I ended up applying for the job and started it and enjoyed it.
MELISSA: Lauser has been here helping children and their parents safely navigate the intersection of Waller and Central for just under five years, but that’s not all he does for the Chinese Immersion School.
CHRIS: My first year here, the school principal, uh, she retired last year…she asked me to be a Noon Monitor because I got a big break between my morning, uh, crossing guard duties and my afternoon. And at first, I said, “Nah, nah, this is enough, you know, two-and-a-half hours a day.” But she was persistent. She goes, “Just try it.” So, in, uh, early, I guess August of 2019, I said I gotta give it a try. So, I’ve been a Noon Monitor for over four years now. So, I’ve gotten, you know, really gotten to know the kids and the parents because, especially my noon monitor duties, because I’m, I’m watching, uh, them while the teachers are able to go to lunch and have breaks and stuff.
MELISSA: He tells us it’s a good gig, and the setting is pretty idyllic.
CHRIS: This is the Haight-Ashbury and so, uh, you know, Golden Gate Park is just a couple blocks away. It’s a beautiful area.
MELISSA: Yeah, could you get any more quintessentially San Francisco than this corner?
CHRIS: I agree. I agree. I agree. I grew up in San Francisco, you know, in the midst of the turmoil of the 60s and stuff. I was going to University of San Francisco at the time.
KIDS AND PARENT: Morning
CHRIS: Leo, how come you weren’t in school Friday?
CHRIS: You were sick? (laughs)
CHILD: Mr. Chris…
MELISSA: Hoa is a parent at the school, and after dropping off her kids, she talks to us about Mr. Chris.
HOA, CHINESE IMMERSION SCHOOL PARENT: I mean, he’s, he’s super friendly to the kids. He’s super friendly to the parents. He knows a lot of parents and say “hi” to all of us, you know. We love him.
MELISSA: Hoa adds that even in this quiet neighborhood, she’s happy the school has a crossing guard.
HOA: Just because they are some parents who do a little crazy driving, too, even though they know that they shouldn’t be. And certainly with, you know, kids crossing the street. So he’s there to make sure that they cross safely. And, and, and just to keep the traffic going because sometimes, you know, everybody’s in a rush in the morning, and they do little crazy things.
MELISSA: As for Lauser, he’s also happy to spend a few hours a day here when school is in session.
CHRIS: I’ve never had children. Been married a couple of times but never had children (chuckles). But just watching ‘em grow… Like, uh, when I first started as a Noon Monitor, kindergarteners are now in the fourth grade. So, throughout the years, you know, we build up a relationship, so they know me real well, and I know them. And, uh, so, it’s, it’s been fun and, you know, just see ‘em, not only the physical growth but the intellectual growth and stuff.
MELISSA: Lauser is just one of the dozens of crossing guards dotting San Francisco on weekday mornings and afternoons.
KAREN- WONG, CROSSING GUARD PROGRAM ASSISTANT MANAGER: At the beginning of this 2023 to 2024 school years, we have about 180 guards. We provide guard service to 106 public and private schools, across about 154 intersections.
MELISSA: That’s Karen Wong, Assistant Manager of the School Crossing Guard Program and current Acting Manager. She tells us the program is part of the SFMTA’s larger effort to create safe and inviting streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and anyone who uses scooters or wheelchairs. And that, of course, includes kids.
KAREN: School crossing guard program has been around San Francisco for a very long time. It is important because this is one of the solutions for safe crossings. We staff our crossing guards at the beginning of the school time when the school starts and when it’s dismissed. That’s when large volume of students, parents would be crossing.
MELISSA: Wong says all the guards are trained at the beginning of each school term.
KAREN: In August, we welcome our school crossing guards back to the fall school semester after a summer break. And when they return, we provide the current school year school calendars with holidays and no school days to them. And we provide the work schedules for the new school years. Plus, we share any updated information that it is important to share with them, that we review them during the back-to-school trainings. Then come January, they would return for the spring training.
MELISSA: Just under a mile away from the Chinese Immersion School is McKinley Elementary at 14th and Castro Streets … where we find crossing guard Arturo Garcia. This intersection is significantly busier than the one at Waller and Central. In addition to the school on one corner, there is a hospital on another and a small market on another. There’s also more traffic, Muni stops and stoplights.
ARTURO GARCIA, CROSSING GUARD: Whether there are stoplights or not, people these days seem to do a lot of distracted driving. You know, they’re maybe looking at their phone while they’re stopped at a stoplight, and…and then they kinda get this urge to go and don’t really see that the stoplight is not in their favor. You know, so you’ve gotta always constantly look out for people and what they’re doing. And even though, of course, this is a controlled intersection, it’s still, you know. Pretty hazardous sometimes for pedestrians to get through. And then sometimes pedestrians, themselves, are distracted. Pedestrians are looking at their phone and not really look-…walking. They walk right into a situation, and I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve had to tell them, “Stop!”
MELISSA: Like Lauser, Garcia is a San Francisco native. He wanted to get back into the workforce after taking time to care for his elderly parents. After a stint working for the city’s Department of Elections, he decided to become a crossing guard and, again like Lauser, really enjoys working with children and their families.
ART: They’re cool kids. I like them, um… They’re very friendly, and they actually look to you for that guidance. You know, they, you know, they’ll make sure when we look at each other in the eyes that it’s okay for them to come along and come across. There’s this one kid who comes across the street every day, he says to me, “Have a remarkable and awesome day!” You know, and it’s like, wow, that’s great.
MELISSA: And what does he enjoy most?
ART: I get the satisfaction of making sure that kids and any-everyone getting across the street safely… Morning… It’s just nice to be around the next generation.
MCKINLET STUDENT: The bell ring! The bell ring!
ART: Kids bring a smile to my face every day.
MELISSA: McKinley Elementary Principal John Collins, meanwhile, tells us Garcia is an important part of the school community.
JOHN COLLINS, MCKINLEY ELEMENTARY PRINCIPAL: He’s here probably before his shift starts. He waves at all the buses going by, the big buses, the small buses, uh… Kids know him by face, um… Before you enter the building, you have a smile waiting for you at the corner, especially if your kids are walking to school, or if you’re coming off of Muni. Uh, it’s great to have him here. Uh, he’s super flexible.
MELISSA: And he reiterates what we’ve heard about the importance of crossing guards, especially here at McKinley, where there is a second crossing guard working at 14th and Divisadero.
JOHN: A lot of times, this street can be very fast. The sun hits at a particular angle sometimes, which makes it sometimes dangerous. So having the crossing guards here does give the community some extra support with slowing down, understanding that during certain times of the day, there are precious little kids crossing the street.
MELISSA: Morning drop-off has gone very smoothly at the two schools we’ve visited. However, that’s not always the case, and sometimes Parking Control Officer Angie Barroso has to step in.
ANGIE BAROSSO, PARKING CONTROL OFFICER: If crossing guards are having problems with parents double parking, white zones…people parking in the white zone, dropping off in the crosswalks, they call in to the office or email in. And then the office lets me know, and I go out and educate the parents. Uh, we try to encourage them to find a parking space. To go ahead and walk the kid across the street. I generally don’t like to cite. Education is primary.
MELISSA: Barroso has been a PCO for almost 25 years and has done many details with parking enforcement, but this is by far her favorite. It also can be necessary.
ANGIE: It’s scary for the crossing guards because imagine you have a row of six cars double parked, and the last car is not dropping anybody off and wants to zoom around all of those cars. So, it comes on the opposite side of oncoming traffic, and the crossing guard is trying to cross their kid safely, and then they see a car coming around five cars double parked, and they don’t, you know, they kind of freeze. And they don’t know, should they send the kid, should they hold the kid? ‘Cause you don’t know what that possibly irate driver is gonna do because they’ve been waiting in the line that’s backed up five cars.
MELISSA: We ask if there is a particular area of the city that’s more problematic during school drop off or pick up, and the answer is no.
ANGIE: Every single school in San Francisco, whether it’s private, public, it doesn’t matter, the fifteen minutes before school starts, everybody thinks they can park however they want to, to drop off their kids, make sure they get inside safely.
MELISSA: And ultimately, Barroso wants people to know that her job truly is to help in those situations.
ANGIE: I’m not there to make anybody’s life harder, especially the crossing guard. People tend to try and take things out on the crossing guard, whether it’s verbally or with their vehicle. And so, my primary focus is to just educate the parents.
MELISSA: And that education helps kids get to school safely where they can enjoy and reap the benefits of their education. Thank you for joining us on TAKEN WITH TRANSPORTATION. We’re a production of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and you can find the latest episodes at SFMTA.com-slash-Podcast, as well as Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen. I’m Melissa Culross. Be well and travel well.