CONCORD -- When the Concord City Council began phasing out school crossing guards to save money, parents started worrying about how their children would safely walk to school.
At three Mt. Diablo district campuses, parents have stepped up fill the void. They don brightly colored safety vests, wield hand-held stop signs, and step fearlessly into dangerous intersections to halt traffic for students scrambling to class.
Kristi Buchholz, a member of the Ayers Elementary PTA Safety Committee, started a volunteer crossing guard program at the school after watching children dart across the street, dodging impatient drivers. Some motorists, she said, would stop in red zones and make illegal turns as they hurried to work in the mornings, creating hazards for student and adult pedestrians alike.
"It was just bad behavior," Buchholz said of the drivers. "It's really sad because it's the parents doing it. It's depressing."
But traffic is moving more smoothly since Buchholz and a corps of parent crossing guards took control of the intersection in front of the school last month.
Previously, cars would back up for blocks because one would stop every time a child crossed the street. Now the guards let several cars pass while students gather on the curb, before guiding them into the crosswalk.
PTA President Shauna Potts praised Buchholz for her dogged determination in pushing for the program.
"The woman is a saint," Potts said, while watching Buchholz cheerfully greeting students scampering across the street. "She is responsible for getting this going -- her tireless efforts and her refusal to give up."
After Concord police trained Buchholz and other volunteers a few months ago, Mt. Diablo school district General Counsel Greg Rolen raised objections because he worried about liability. But by that time, Buchholz had generated so much momentum and goodwill for the program that trustees gave it the go-ahead in January as a pilot program, while the district discusses liability issues with the city.
At the other end of Concord, in the Monument Corridor, Cambridge and Meadow Homes elementary schools recently started "Walking School Bus" programs in partnership with Kaiser Permanente and Contra Costa County Health Services. Parent volunteers walk students in a formation that resembles a school bus along eight different routes to Meadow Homes Elementary, said Ana Villalobos, a program coordinator.
"At Meadow Homes, we have around 40 parents and 150 kids," she said. "The parents are not only walking, they're also guiding cars in the parking lots. They're doing an amazing job."
Parents in the low-income, largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood said they are happy to be helping the school by teaching their children to follow rules and reminding drivers to be considerate.
"It's really important because we know we are making a difference," said volunteer Maria Gaytan. "And as parents, we want to be a wonderful example for our kids."
Reyna Cruz said she and other volunteers want the rest of the community to see their commitment.
"We want people to be proud of our school," Cruz said. "We want people to see that we are doing good things for our school."
Concord police Chief Guy Swanger told the City Council on Tuesday that police have trained Meadow Homes volunteers and will soon train parents at Cambridge and Ygnacio Valley elementary schools.