By Jaclyn Bruner

Staff directing traffic at a PG school without crossing guards
Staff directing traffic at a local school with no crossing guards.
Photo credit: Paul Ruffins

In an untitled poem, author and grief poet Sara Rían writes: “don’t you grow up / we say to babies. / don’t you get old / we say to adults. / but please do. / grow up. get old. / what a privilege. / what a gift.” 

When I heard the news that two Riverdale Elementary School students had been hit by a car, I reached for my phone. If you’re like me, you might’ve sent the same frantic text: “Are you okay?” to your neighbors and friends in Riverdale. And if you’re like me, those raw words would have felt worthless, though they might have been all you could come up with. 

As the week passed and we sat down to Thanksgiving, I found myself awash in guilt. That survivor’s kind, the kind when you catch yourself saying, “That could’ve been me.” 

Because sometimes the cold, hard truth is that we haven’t done enough yet to protect that precious gift of getting old. 

In January, I spoke at the College Park City Council meeting, urging the city to help us advocate for crossing guards for Hollywood Elementary School. With a shaky voice, I described watching my husband jump between a car and a neighbor’s stroller at Edgewood Road and Rhode Island Avenue. On behalf of other parents who pass through that intersection and others each day, I asked my local elected officials to consider what they could do to address the cars that zoom through the intersection and turn without pausing to look for bikes or pedestrians. I asked the city council to do something — to put the weight of the city behind our pleas as parents to keep our children safe on their way to school.

To their credit, they listened to me, back in January, and put some pressure on Prince George’s County Public Schools; but it’s December now. The trees are bare again, and we still don’t have crossing guards. 

Across the 200 schools in Prince George’s County, 83 crossing guard positions are currently open, according to reporting by ABC7. Sometimes these positions are covered by a police officer on duty, but such coverage is never guaranteed. 

As I’ve focused time this year on the issue, I’ve been told that the lack of crossing guards is a symptom of the pandemic. As it is in so many other places, staffing in the county is tight and shortages are real. I understand that COVID-19 altered the landscape of labor. 

However, even back in 2012, The Washington Post ran an article about crossing guard shortages in the county. That article cited retiring crossing guards as a primary factor for the shortage. 

The reason provided this year? Crossing guards and others who would normally fill those part-time roles retired during the pandemic. 

But to me, it all rings a bit hollow. Maybe it does to you, too? There are a lot of problems where we need to put our heads together and come up with creative solutions. We’re collectively recovering from a global pandemic, and we’re coping with the rising cost of living. Many of us are still challenged to find a babysitter on a weeknight. 

But this? This is a solvable problem. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that the presence of crossing guards at elementary schools is one of the most effective safety measures, consistently reducing crash rates and injury rates in multiple cities and states. Hiring crossing guards is aligned with the national expansion in the federal Safe Routes to School program, which promotes walking and biking to school. 

There are certainly challenges in implementing this knowledge, but right here at home we have families torn apart by the tragic deaths of two children who were crossing the street, in front of their elementary school. We know the solution. 

So is that it? Do we get distracted by the other crises that also need immediate attention? I’ll be honest, that’s what happened to me this year. 

Is my kid getting a quality education? Is he on his screen too much? What’s the drinking water situation at school? Is the school safe enough? There’s news of another gun incident again, of a potential federal government shutdown, of an international war. 

In January, I stood up and used my civic voice to ask the community to make our walk to school safer. And at the start of the new school year in August, our family chose to drive and park closer to the school each morning in order to avoid the intersection that poses the biggest threats for pedestrian safety. 

This is a solvable problem. We need to keep the pressure on, to get creative to solve the problem of a shortage and to use our voices to say that our children, heading into their school buildings … their safety matters. 

Our children are a gift worth protecting. What a privilege, what a gift.