Palo Alto crossing guard does his part to make kids feel safe, joyous


On a sunny spring afternoon, local crossing guard Charles Gaters came across one of his many charges: a preschooler out for a walk with his mom. Gaters offered a high-five to the little kid, who bashfully obliged.

"This guy is awesome! He's amazing, he brightens up our day," the mother exclaimed.

Gaters, who has a background in therapeutic child-care work, holds a post on the corner of El Camino Real and Maybell Avenue before and after each school day. His gregarious presence as a crossing guard since 2010 has been gratefully received by his manager, parents, local residents and the students he shepherds across the busy intersection.

But it's not just physical safety that Gaters considers his mission: It's students' whole well-being.

Every day, he tries to maintain an active dialogue with the kids who cross his post, whether it is giving life advice, asking about their day or just making them laugh. He works to give them a little perspective on their childhood and teenage years. For example, he asks students what they think they will be doing in 10 years and then reminds them what age they were 10 years ago, in order to demonstrate how quickly life moves.

Palo Alto resident Trudi Clifton-Vizvary walks by Gaters' post every morning to get coffee and has often been struck by his energy with the kids. As a retired child-welfare social worker herself, she resonated with his approach, and over time they became friends.

"He has a one-on-one connection. He knows most of them by name; he always gives them a high-five," Clifton-Vizvary said. "There's sort of a kinetic, wonderful response between the two of them — it's like energy — between Charles and every child."

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked with children in a mental health residential treatment center, Gaters moved to the Bay Area 30 years ago. When he first landed, he worked in group homes as a direct-care worker with adults with mental disabilities. Following that, he worked as a full-time and substitute custodian for 13 years in the Palo Alto and the Mountain View school districts and at Foothill Community College. He retired from his custodial work in 2008 but then became a crossing guard in 2010, after he found his retired life boring. The work was a natural fit, he said.

"I felt real comfortable, I really did," Gaters said. "I felt I had something to give to the kids."

The longtime school employee has always made his work about the students, whether as a crossing guard or a custodian. During past Halloweens, he has passed out candy, and this last Christmas he dressed up as Santa Claus.

"I get so attached to the kids. High-fiving them, fist-pumping them, (making) sure they have a good day at the start of the day, (making) sure they have a good evening when they leave. ... To me that's important," Gaters said.

When working as a substitute custodian at Walter Hays Elementary School, he developed a game with kids by rewarding whoever had the cleanest lunch table for a week. And during his time as a substitute custodian at Jordan Middle School, the students wrote a petition to the Palo Alto Board of Education to get him hired full time there.

Last year he retired from his crossing guard work because he and his wife were planning to move to Atlanta, Georgia. But when the move had to be put on hold and he got a call to cover shifts, he jumped right back in. He and his wife are still planning to move to Atlanta and fully retire in the coming year. Gaters expressed mixed emotions about leaving the Bay Area but also said that he cannot afford to live here anymore.

His time living on hold has not been wasted. He told one story of a kid coming up to him at work and telling him that seeing him every morning on his way to school made the student's day "perfect."

"I think what makes a good crossing guard is listening to kids, listening to what they are really saying," Gaters said. "If they talk to you, just listen to them."

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27 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Green Acres
on May 21, 2015 at 10:20 am

I noticed when he took over that corner because, not only is it clear that he relates well with the students, he's also very clear with the car drivers. Sometimes crossing guards can be very difficult to read in terms of what to do and what not to do when you are driving. Generally I think we have great crossing guards, but I think Gaters is really great. I pass through that intersection frequently during school hours and really appreciate his overall level of professionalism, as well as how he seems to genuinely relate well with the kids.

29 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 10:54 am

Mr. Gaters is a local treasure. My high school son has pointed him out to me on a number of occasions and talks about how good it feels to get a fist bump from him in the mornings when he bikes to school. It starts every kid's day with a positive little moment. Thank you, dear man!

10 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Mountain View
on May 21, 2015 at 11:05 am

Check out Bubbles near Landels School. The kids love her too. She changes the color of her hair, blows bubbles to entertain them and protects them all like a hawk....and not just children, anyone crossing the street will be protected by Bubbles.

Wish everyone had the spirit of these great guards. The world would be a much better, humane place.

Thanks to all the great guards who protect our kids

19 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 21, 2015 at 11:06 am

My Freshman daughter was just mentioning to me yesterday how nice the crossing guard at Maybell and El Camino is. Thank you, Mr. Gaters for keeping the children of our community safe and for the positive and happy way you relate to everyone! You rock!

21 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 21, 2015 at 11:40 am

Oh I've seen him before...LOVE him!!!!! Some people are just genuinely kind!

15 people like this
Posted by Community Member
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2015 at 11:56 am

Wow! :) warms my heart to know there are people chasing CONNECTION over CURRENCY$.

Remember this guy when you give gifts to teachers and other people who keep your child's brightest hopes for the future kindled.

Mr. Gaters, may blessings return to you wherever you go. You are a Good man, in deed.

11 people like this
Posted by Hays Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Just wanted to say that Dante - our crossing guard for Walter Hays at the corner of Embarcadero and Middlefield -does an AWESOME JOB as well! He consistently teaches drivers NOT to take a right turn at the red light when the kids are present - and he does it in a way that is both effective and courteous. Plus, he's a gem with the kids. Thanks to all the crossing guards who take care of our kids every day!

14 people like this
Posted by Greenmom
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 12:13 pm

I love this post!!! I don't know any of the guards, as we don't cross those streets, but the fact that they exist, is like a fresh air breeze on a hot day!! And the fact that people are publicly recognizing them is also fantastic. Notice the good and it will grow!!! That is how we create a better world, one person at a time, one kind act at a time, until it gets contagious! Thank you to Dante, Mr Gaters and Bubbles, you have no idea how far your kindness can go!
I love it

11 people like this
Posted by teresa
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 21, 2015 at 12:22 pm

He is not only nice to the kids he gives waves and smiles to us "regular" drivers too...we need more folks like him in the world...he makes my morning brighter

8 people like this
Posted by Bruce
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm

As an adult biker, I appreciate the guards as well. At one time I was regularly crossing E Charleston at Nelson Drive when a school guard was particularly engaging. The guards work for the students, but it feels good for all when adults also say hello and acknowledge their work.

7 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Even so, we should not renew American Guard Services and encourage the local workers to self-organize, re-bid and give them a raise back to the $14 they were making before AGS. If we have $50 M or whatever for a new police station we certainly have $14 per hour for good, local cross guards. Or $15 rather, a new minimum wage.

There was a fair amount of debate on this back in fall, 2011.

Web Link

(AGS, which is actually a defense contractor based in LA, underbid the long-time cross walk company -- before 1999 we did this in-house -- and hired back most of the existing workers after busting their pay down a buck or two -- you can search out the staff memo on the three-year deal we gave them in 2011)

8 people like this
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 21, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Second the commentary on Dante at Walter Hays as well. He's extremely protective of "his" kids and very clear with the drivers. He does his job with joy and grace and it cheers me every day to drive by him. So grateful to live in a community with multiple crossing guards who clearly love their work and the community they are safeguarding.

8 people like this
Posted by Jim Colton
a resident of Green Acres
on May 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm

There's a great crossing guard at el camino and Arastradero also. Nice to see all comments are respectful on PAonline. Let's try to keep to this decorum.

8 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Green Acres
on May 21, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I also appreciate the crossing guard in front of Juana Briones school, and at East Meadow in front of JLS. That's a really busy situation in front of JLS, and he has to be incredibly alert. I agree, I hope people will speak up about the pay situation.

I dearly wish we could get a crossing guard at Maybell and Donald, at least in the morning!!

4 people like this
Posted by Kathy
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Thank you so much, Charles. You are a real "treasure" and an amazing person as well. I don't live in Palo Alto anymore, but, if I did (w/ my kids in tow), I would appreciate you all the more.

6 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 21, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Charles and Lynne, the crossing guard at the intersection of Coulombe and Maybell, have done a tremendous job of putting smiles on the faces of kids and parents at the start and end of the school day all year long. Thanks to both of them for high-level performance in a challenging setting. Let's hope it will be less challenging next year, after the bicycle corridor improvements are in place.

I'll miss Charles's fist bumps and warm greetings in the morning when I cross ECR and know that the students will as well. It's a great first interaction to have after you've left the house to start the day.

11 people like this
Posted by Duveneck Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2015 at 9:24 pm

A huge shout out to Robert, the Duveneck crossing guard at Channing and Alestair!!! He is wonderful, friendly, cheerful, always looking out for kids, parents and the dogs (he always has treats for the dogs in his pockets)!

9 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 10:39 pm

This is so important. Having the first social interaction of the day outside of the home be positive and cheery, and beginning the school day knowing that someone recognizes and cares about you is priceless to a child, and to us adults too! Kindness, caring and connection are just what the doctor ordered in this stress-laden town...

10 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Also, Poncho, the crossing guard at Middlefield and E. Meadow is amazing. He is vigilant about the kids' safety in that busy intersection. He gives clear signals to the drivers and clearly enjoys his job. He connects with all the kids with high-fives, and listens to their stories about the day. He is so positive and kind- we are lucky to have him as well!

9 people like this
Posted by just sayin
a resident of Green Acres
on May 22, 2015 at 12:11 am

I know this is off topic, but a note for Maya's parents (in the picture). That helmet is useless the way she is wearing it. It is supposed to protect her forehead in case she goes flying off her bike (heaven forbid). It needs to be tighter around her ears too. If you need help, I'm sure any bike shop can show you how to fit it properly. I'd hate to see her get hurt.

Like this comment
Posted by mark weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Hannah
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 22, 2015 at 11:14 pm

I'm a sophomore at Gunn, and I can honestly say that this man makes my entire day. We can genuinely tell that he cares about us and wants us to have the best day possible. When the first suicide occurred at Gunn, he did not hesitate to tell each and every student that their life mattered and that he really truly cared about them. It's really great having a crossing guard be as invested in our lives as Charles is.

2 people like this
Posted by Veronica
a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2015 at 12:14 pm

My son mentioned the crossing guard right in front of Terman Middle school is also awesome! Thought I do not know his name. But he is very responsible. He constantly educates some drivers how to respect the traffic rules. There are hundred of students cross his responsible area daily.

However, thumbs down for the guy at Coulomber Dr. and Arastradero. Most of the time he sat on the back of his car. The lady in front of Juana Briones seems always stand in one spot during the entire guard time.

2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Where do these guards live? Stockton? Tracy? I wouldn't care much about my job if I commuted 6 hours a day for a $10/hr gig. The world is a strange place.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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