The 100 school crossing guards in Pittsburgh are training this month to learn how to effectively mentor the students who cross their paths.
The Buhl Foundation offered a $25,000 grant to Allies for Children, which is training the crossing guards as part of the Everyday Mentors program.
Colleen Fedor, executive director of the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which developed the Everyday Mentors program, said crossing guards are taught the rules of the road, how to safely cross people and direct traffic. But until now, haven’t had any other training around interpersonal relationships.
“And so, while many of them are so good at that already, this is really just telling them thank you and showing them ways they are already making a difference and showing ways they might add to that,” she said.
Fedor said, even though the time a guard sees a child is brief, they could start a conversation by telling the child they are glad to see them going to school.
“You see crossing guards who are meeting children with a smile and greeting them and saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re here today,’ or ‘I see you’re on your way to school. Do you have your homework done?’ or ‘Be careful,’” she said.
She said crossing guards are public safety agents, but can also show support or take a moment to listen.
“They can see when there is something not right, or maybe something is really great and a young person is looking for someone to affirm the good things that are going on,” she said.
One of the training facilitators told crossing guards it’s important not to make assumptions about a student approaching a crosswalk, but rather be open, consistent and kind.
“Because what we are doing now is making sure that when the children come to us, we are giving them a clean slate,” she said.
Mayor Bill Peduto and Police Chief Cameron McLay both said positive interactions between a uniformed official and a child can lead to better interactions with public safety officers.
Peduto said a crossing guard might be the first time a child interacts with a uniformed official, especially outside of a moment of crisis.
“But the opportunity on a daily basis to interact with our crossing guards, to see that person as a role model and be able to talk to them will help build a future in which they have a better interaction with public safety,” he said.
McLay said it’s in the city’s best interest to develop strong relationships between police officers and crossing guards, who know the children in the neighborhood. He added that he considers the guards valued partners in traffic safety.