This blog post was first shared in the VDOT SRTS newsletter.

Two years ago, Richmond Public Schools started a pilot program where staff and faculty members could become crossing guards. We talked to one crossing guard, Leslie Lopez, about how she’s doing and why she loves the job.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am originally from the Northern Virginia area, but I’ve been living in Richmond for the last 12 years. I’ve been working at Ginter Park Elementary School for five years, with the last three years as a Second Grade Instructional Assistant.

Prior to that, I was in an AmeriCorps program called The Literacy Lab that helps bridge the K-3 literacy gap in underserved schools. I attended VCU and even worked for VCU Athletics for a few years, so I am a huge VCU basketball fan as well!

How’d you first hear about SRTS and get involved?

I had heard of SRTS prior to becoming a crossing guard because our whole staff would participate in the National Walk to School Days: walking into our local neighborhoods and creating walking school buses with our students. I’m also friends with someone who works for Greater Richmond Fit4Kids! When our principal asked our staff if anyone was interested in being a part of the crossing guard pilot program, I immediately signed up!

When I was in elementary school, there was a crossing guard named Gail, and the children coming through her intersection just LOVED her. She loved to give hugs, she would wave to every car like she knew everyone inside, she would tell you she loved you and have a great day. When the opportunity presented itself, I really wanted to join because I think it’s nice to be a friendly face out there every morning and afternoon for our school community, showing they’re loved, we’re here to keep them safe and we want them to have an excellent day.

Richmond recently shifted its crossing guard program from the police department to the school system. Why do you think that matters?

I think it matters so much. I think having the same crossing guards who already work in the building and are familiar to the students, and familiar to each other is important for communication in a busy, hectic intersection. I also think it builds a strong community, seeing the same kids and grown-ups (and even some neighbors!) out walking and biking every morning and afternoon.

You were part of a pilot program where teachers or other staff could become crossing guards. Could you tell us what that was like?

I just think it has been such a fun challenge to work through with my other crossing guards! We were together in the first year (that got cut short) and we’re back together this school year.

We have a very tricky intersection so the first year, we had to work on what was the most effective way to communicate to each other and anyone coming through the intersection and talk through the routine of traffic flow. Luckily, we were all new, so we would make our mistakes, talk about them once we were back on the sidewalk, and try again when we would go back out into the intersection. We have a well-oiled machine now though!

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a crossing guard?

As I mentioned, we have a tricky and sometimes dangerous intersection. The main road that comes northbound past our school has a curve, and people driving cars tend to go too fast down it. It’s also not a straight four-way intersection, more of a three-way stop, with the exit of our parking lot as the “fourth” stop. We’ve had to work on communicating with our pedestrians to make sure they wait for our go-ahead and make sure that all traffic has fully stopped.

Virginia currently has a shortage of crossing guards. Do you have any advice for anyone who’s interested in becoming one?

It’s more fun than you think it is! You are provided everything, and the team with Fit4Kids and SRTS are very active in communicating and will always make sure you have everything you need to be successful.

We often have to remind ourselves that our main and only goal is to make sure kids get across the street to school safely, so if you don’t feel comfortable directing traffic, don’t do it, and don’t feel bad for not doing it. Talk with your team often, it’s so important!

Finally, what are your favorite places to walk and bike in Virginia? I used to live in the Museum District in Richmond, so I would run and bike all through there because it was easy, and everything is very accessible. Now I live in Northside and there’s a great walking path right next to Shalom Farms that is great to walk on in the spring and summer when all the vegetation is coming in!