Crossing guard Shannon DeJesus holds a stop sign at Puuhale
Elementary. Many principals say more can be done
to ensure students' safety.
As thousands of students return to theSafely to school
classroom, parents and principals ponder
how to ensure students make it
JPOs: Students protecting studentsBy Dawn Sagario
Tips parents can give their children
Schools respond to a Star-Bulletin survey
KATHY Baum's tug on her daughter's hand may have saved the 5-year-old's life.
In December 1997, Ruby and her mother were in the crosswalk at Hui Iwa and Hui Kelu streets on the way to Ahuimanu Elementary School, when a car barely missed Ruby.
"I had to grab her hand and pull her, or she would have been hit," Baum said.
With no crossing guard or traffic light at the four-way intersection, she says the area can become a dangerous place in the morning, especially for children walking to school.
With classes getting under way Monday at many schools -- summer is over for 63,547 public school students that day -- two of parents' main concerns, especially those with elementary school-aged children, are traffic and crosswalk safety.
Accidents such as the one that killed 10-year-old Jerry Kekahuna last Dec. 14 are reminders of the roadway dangers children face. Jerry was walking to boxing practice when he was hit by a pickup truck while in a crosswalk on Farrington Highway fronting Wai-anae Intermediate School.
Children 14 and under are the most vulnerable pedestrians, according to numbers provided by the state Department of Transportation. Of the 648 pedestrian accidents victims in 1997, 172 -- or about 27 percent -- were 14 or younger.
The Department of Education relies on Honolulu police to oversee traffic safety at schools, said Melvin Seo, the DOE's transportation and safety specialist.
Most schools take advantage of the Honolulu Police Department's adult crossing guards and Junior Police Officers program.
A check of selected elementary schools on Oahu showed that most administrators believe their traffic safety programs are sufficient. But many school officials also said more could be done to increase the safety of their students.
Principal Jean Davidson doesn't like the traffic safety situation around Rev. Benjamin Parker Elementary School in Kaneohe.
Safety measures are insufficient, Davidson believes. Ben Parker has no HPD crossing guard, and Davidson said the intersection of Kamehameha Highway and Waikalua Road is so busy that its JPO squad had to be pulled from the crossing a year ago.
An adult crossing guard is supposed to be there, but Davidson said the Honolulu Police Department has been unable to find someone to man the post. The school had a guard at the intersection last year, but only intermittently, she said.
Part of the problem may be that adult crossing guards are hard to come by in many places, and volunteer guards aren't always available. An administrator surveyed at Nuuanu Elementary said few individuals are interested in the job, which pays $9.66 an hour, for one hour in the morning and afternoon.
Crossing-guard applicants must go through a background check before being hired, said Sgt. William Luat of the Honolulu Police Department's traffic division. They then have to pass a hearing and vision test, and undergo a four-hour orientation before being put on the street.
A big share of the burden for safety falls on student JPOs, supplemented and overseen by adults.
Of the 162 schools statewide that the police department's traffic division is responsible for, only 15 do not have JPOs and instead have only adult crossing guards, said Luat, head of the JPO program.
JPOs do everything from lowering hand-held stop signs at crossings, to opening car doors for children being dropped off at school.
The majority of administrators praised the JPO program and said the junior officers help alleviate traffic congestion. Yet several said adults would be better suited for the job.
"I would feel better if there were adults strictly in charge of crossing," said Bjarne Kaer, principal at Sgt. Samuel K. Solomon Elementary School.
"There's always that worry that something might happen with the JPOs."
The age of some of the JPOs worries some administrators.
"It's a lot of responsibility for a 10- or 11-year-old to have," said Dennis Kato, Helemano School principal.
"I don't believe that children should be out there directing traffic," said Cecilia Lum, principal of Koko Head Elementary. "I'm just worried that the children can't make good decisions regarding traffic."
Some schools have gone beyond the two mainstream programs and taken additional steps for safety. Among them:
At Helemano Elementary, money from the school's $20,000 priority fund was used to hire an extra crosswalk supervisor at $6 an hour to help out in the afternoon. "The cost is minimal for what you can prevent," Kato said.
At Makalapa Elementary, members of the Foster Village community come out and observe traffic and students every morning. "Just to know that they're there is comforting," Vice Principal Carole Mitsuyoshi said.
At Puuhale School, the group Hoa Aloha of Puuhale used about $2,000 of fund-raising money to install a fence between the school and an adjacent field.
Adults were driving through the field, which is used by children to walk into the school, to drop off students.
"We didn't want to wait for a kid to get hurt," said Hoa Aloha President Lee Daricar.
At Solomon Elementary, parents and the military work together to man intersections. Every road crossing has a soldier or parent on duty.
Schools and parents also have made requests to the city, as well as the state Legislature, for measures they say would help assure student safety, including:
Sidewalks where there are none.
Traffic lights at particularly busy intersections that don't have them.
Blinking lights to indicate a school speed zone.
And additional street signs, speed bumps, crosswalks and crossing guards.
Some requests have been successful; others have not.
Administrators at Helemano and Haleiwa Elementary have asked for sidewalks but have yet to see them built. Helemano Principal Kato says he has been trying for six to seven years.
Evelyn Aczon Hao, principal of Kuhio Elementary, said she would like to see the school's Kahoaloha Lane crossing guard returned.
According to Hao, Kuhio lost the crossing guard at the beginning of last school year after an HPD survey determined that not enough students used the walkway to warrant one.
Pam Ishimoto, acting principal last semester, said she asked that the guard be reinstated but was told that budget constraints limited the number available. HPD did increase patrols around the school, though, she said.
The school now has one HPD crossing guard, posted at Waiaka Road.
Lanakila Elementary will be getting a traffic light at Kuakini and Alaneo streets. Principal Randall Higa made the request to the City Council less than a year ago and got approval before the end of last school year. Now it's a matter of waiting for the light to be put up.
Officials at Ben Parker School are waiting, too.
Until the HPD can find a new crossing guard, Davidson and the vice principal will be taking turns with crosswalk duty, much as staff and parents do at schools statewide whenever necessary to help keep students safe.
"For us it's a matter simply of 'Nobody comes, then we go out,' " Davidson said.
Statistics and details taken from 63 schools on Oahu responding to a Star-Bulletin survey. Thirty-one schools reported they are in high-traffic zones:
JPOS AT EACH SCHOOLRange from three to 60 students.
HPD CROSSING GUARDS AT EACH SCHOOLRange from one to three.
Schools with one adult HPD crossing guardKaahumanu, Kalihi-uka, Lincoln, Waikiki.
Schools with no HPD crossing guards or JPOsAnuenue: Since a significant number of the students do not live in the community, administrators say neither program is needed. About 95 percent of the children are either dropped off by parents or bused in, said school secretary Kawehi Wong.
Kaelepulu: With only 170 students enrolled in the school, a JPO program is not necessary, Principal Glenn Nakamoto said. To his knowledge, the school has never had the program since opening in 1973. The HPD recently informed the school that a crossing guard will be manning the intersection of Akea Place and Keolu Drive a few weeks from now. Although no one will be posted at the crossing until then, Nakamoto says most of the students are dropped off, and few walk to school.
Rev. Benjamin Parker: Administrators removed JPOs from the roadway last year because of dangerous conditions, and put them on duty in the school's parking lot instead. The school is still waiting for a crossing guard.
Schools that say safety is lackingMayor Joseph J. Fern School: Principal Ronald Abe said the school's second crossing guard needs to be restored, the blinking light on the school zone sign needs adjusting, and volunteers are needed to man the front driveway.
Hokulani: Administrators would like to see adults directing traffic in Hokulani's small, tight, busy parking lot.
Kaahumanu: Administrators would like to see before- and after-school HPD patrols and an overpass for students. The school's JPO program was discontinued because of concerns that traffic would be too heavy for the children to handle.
Kaala: Principal Glen Kila wants a crossing guard for the school. Both the HPD and the school are still looking for one. He would also like to see the HPD's JPO officer come weekly to train students. Kila said the officer told him he would be unable to reschedule missed trainings because of the number of schools that need to be serviced.
Kaiulani: Administrators said more assistance with safety is always needed.
Likelike: School officials say a traffic light is needed at the corner of Palama Street and Sing Loy Lane to solve the problem of drivers speeding down Palama.
Lincoln: The JPOs work on campus because Auwaiolimu Street is too dangerous for them. Although they have a crossing guard, administrators would like to see additional school crossing signs and flashing lights.
Mauka Lani: Although the school has a crossing guard and JPO program, administrators say that a crosswalk on Panana Street and a traffic light on Makakilo Drive would improve safety.
Rev. Benjamin Parker: Until the new crossing guard arrives, the principal and vice principal will share the duty.
Waiahole: School officials say they need a reliable crossing guard. The one they have now is not always on the job, they indicated.
Junior officers help
ensure kids security
Directing traffic is a big responsibilityBy Dawn Sagario
for schools' young crossing guards
It's children protecting children.
The Junior Police Officer program, run by the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division, has students as young as 10 years old holding stop signs at intersections surrounding schools.
"I always remind them that the lives of other students are in their hands and that they're standing in for the police officers," said Ruth Silberstein, principal at Puohala Elementary. "They have to be alert and remember that safety is the key factor."
These junior officers, along with adult supervisors, help to provide safe passage for children walking to and from school.
Students are taught basic traffic and pedestrian safety by police officers assigned to assist JPOs at 147 schools statewide.
Officers visit the schools for weekly training, as well as to make periodic observations of JPO squads and crossing guards while they're on duty.
Most schools offer the JPOs incentives like treats and field trips. The program has other benefits, too.
'I like to save the children
so they don't get hurt. I love
to save people.'
NINE-YEAR-OLD JUNIOR POLICE OFFICER
AT PUUHALE SCHOOL
"It also develops responsibility, leadership and community service," said Sgt. William Luat, head of the program. "Just overall values."
JPOs come to school early and leave after most of the other kids have gone home.
"They have to give up their playtime, and that's pretty hard for a kid to do," said Wendy Takahashi, vice principal at Nanakuli Elementary.
But they face adult-sized problems, too.
Speeding is one of the concerns of administrators and parents. Cars have been known not to stop at a JPO's signal, said Wendy Yoshimoto, principal at Wailupe Valley School.
Last year, 10-year-old Chaslyn Cabais, a JPO at Puuhale Elementary, saw cars go through other JPOs' stop signs.
She worried that the same thing would happen to her while she was on duty.
Seeing that didn't deter her from being a JPO, though.
"The best thing about being a JPO is helping kids get to school safely," Cabais said. Shannon DeJesus, a fifth-grader at Puuhale, said being a JPO means helping other people when they're in danger.
Another problem the children sometimes face is adults who don't listen to their instructions. "The worst thing is when someone doesn't follow the JPO directions, and they just cross the road," said Melvie Cuestas, 11.
Lee Daricar, Puuhale School's JPO adviser, said there were at least a dozen incidents last year with parents who didn't listen to JPO instructions.
"Yes, these are kids, and maybe some of them talk to you improperly," Daricar said.
"But still, they're trying to give you information. Sometimes parents will look at them as being just a kid, like, 'Who are you to tell me where I can park and where I can go?' "
Despite the obstacles, the children still like their job.
"I like to save the children so they don't get hurt," said Keala Daricar, 9. "I love to save people."
Parents can do their part by reminding children of basic pedestrian rules. Here are some tips from the departments of Transportation and Education:
Obey traffic regulations.
Cross only at crosswalks and only when the traffic signal indicates it's safe to cross.
Stand back a step from the curb until it's time to cross.
Look left, right and left again and check for turning cars before crossing the street.
Watch out for cars turning at intersections and leaving or entering driveways.
Stay on the sidewalk whenever possible.
If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left side of the roadway, facing traffic.
Wear light colors at night and attach reflective stickers to clothing, containers or toys.