In the brisk morning, there’s a group of children and parents walking down the sidewalk rushing to get to Live Oak Elementary School in Castaic.
Christian Heffernan holds out his hand and once the group gets closer to the street, they stop.
Heffernan, in a bright-colored vest lets a vehicle pass, and he crosses into the middle of the road. He holds out a stop sign, motions for the group to cross and smiles as kids walk safely to school.
“I work at Live Oak Elementary every day, the same days Monday through Friday,” Heffernan said. “I’m there in the morning when parents are dropping their kids off, and I’m there in the afternoon when all the kids are getting out.”
“I want to make sure everyone has the same safe and equal opportunity to get to school. I don’t want anyone to have to worry about their kids when they drop them off.”
Heffernan is one of dozens of crossing guards employed by the city of Santa Clarita, or another third party, to ensure the safety of pedestrians — more specifically, students get to and from their schools without any dangers from cars or other potential hazards.
Heffernan said he’s been working as a crossing guard for a few years, and he was recently named a supervisor for crossing guards in the Castaic and Stevenson Ranch areas. Almost five years ago, Heffernan moved to Southern California and found a home in Castaic near Live Oak.
“Being close to the school, being kind of new to the area and not really anyone around here that I’m familiar with, I thought it would be a great opportunity to not only give back to the community, but also have a nice outlet for myself to be part of a community and meet everybody,” Heffernan said.
Schools across the Santa Clarita Valley are back in session, which means families are back to those early-morning or late-afternoon routines. According to Heffernan, when he works, he usually sees people in a rush and sometimes that makes people irate.
“I’m always there to try to keep people under control and make sure everything goes in a nice manner,” Heffernan said.
According to Jennifer Lindstrom, recreation supervisor for the city of Santa Clarita, they employ approximately 50 crossing guard staff at 35 warranted intersections throughout Santa Clarita. The city serves the Newhall, Sulphur Springs and Saugus districts, and a school in the William S. Hart Union High School District.
The city’s traffic division determines whether an intersection is categorized as “warranted” based upon certain criteria such as pedestrian and vehicle traffic, she added. If an intersection is warranted, then a crossing guard is placed at that location.
The city or school district staff can submit a request that would be evaluated by the traffic division, the recreation and community services division to determine whether a crossing guard is needed, she said.
“The crossing guard program is offered during the regular school district time period, including any specialized schedules, whether it be minimum days, early release days, things like that, crossing guards are scheduled on those specific days,” Lindstrom said.
District staff can submit requests to the city for any summer programming needs, she added.
Training crossing guards is a multi-step process with potential applicants undergoing a background check, an in-person training on safety protocols, policies and procedures, and an in-person training at various intersections to learn safety protocols before being placed at their actual site, Lindstrom said.
“[This service] is really to assist children and families getting safely to and from school at both morning arrival and afternoon dismissal time to meet the needs of the community,” Lindstrom said.
According to Deputy Natalie Arriaga, spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, deputies do their best to maintain safety around schools, too.
“We do have our school resource officers on campuses, and they do monitor a lot,” Arriaga said. “They’re assigned to high schools and junior high schools. We have our patrol deputies, who conduct patrol checks through the elementary schools as well.”
In addition, the station posted several social media messages informing the community about the start of the school year to encourage drivers to slow down and be more careful.
Michael Brown, a crossing guard at Oak Hills Elementary School, said his intersection is one of the busier ones — a four-way stop intersection with no traffic lights on Westridge Parkway.
“No, I haven’t seen [any major incidents], and I find for the most part that parents are very helpful,” Brown said.
However, he noticed that drivers are more distracted these days.
“I’ve actually been in the intersection with my stop sign in the air and had drivers go through the intersection,” Brown said. “That’s something that can’t be tolerated. People need to be extra, hyper vigilant about obeying traffic law and watching for kids.”
The first couple of weeks of school are a little rough, he added, as parents are getting used to the protocols for certain intersections.
“There’s a lot of new parents bringing their kids to school for the first time,” Brown said. “They’re a little confused or don’t necessarily know where to go, so it takes a couple of weeks for them to get dialed in. Once that happens, things go a lot smoother.”
Both Brown and Heffernan shared the sentiment that with school starting up again, safety is a high priority, and in doing so, they build relationships with kids and students.
“You get to know the kids after a while, and for whatever reason, they’ll signal you out or they’ll catch your eye,” Brown said. “I always try to be sociable with the kids to a reasonable degree.”
“They have to know that I’m the authority in that intersection when I’m there.”
Heffernan said keeping kids safe at schools is a team effort and everyone in ensuring the safety of students does a wonderful job.
“We all care, a lot of the crossing guards are grandparents, parents, or people who’ve been in the school system before, and we all care. We just want the kids to be taken care of, be part of our community and give back,” Heffernan said.