It was a parade of children unlike anything crossing guard Gary Croan had ever seen.
Standing at the corner of Santa Ana Avenue and East 22nd Street in Costa Mesa’s Eastside, Croan held traffic at bay as uncharacteristically large numbers of children strolled through his zone toward Kaiser Elementary School as part of Walk to School Day.
The national event, held annually on the first Wednesday of October, seeks to promote exercise and being outside.
At least 150 Kaiser students participated in Wednesday’s walk, which started a half-mile away at Lindbergh Park. They were escorted by a group of Costa Mesa police officers and a host of parents, some with dogs in tow.
“We’re pleased with the turnout,” said city Public Services Director Raja Sethuraman.
After a hiatus of several years, the city of Costa Mesa brought back local participation in the event. College Park and Victoria elementary schools also had walks Wednesday.
For some Kaiser parents, Walk to School Day was a social media opportunity. They took cellphone pictures outside Lindbergh Park next to a sign proclaiming the day. They smiled and snapped away as Costa Mesa police, including School Resource Officer Jose Torres, posed for photos among the youngsters. Torres high-fived them while riding his police bike.
“This is just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” one mother exclaimed.
A few boys didn’t get the memo about walking. They speedily rode their bikes alongside the crowd. One of their friends shouted, “You’re too wimpy to walk!”
One girl arrived a few minutes after the walk started. Her mom stopped their minivan, opened the side door and she hopped out.
“You’re late!” her friend proclaimed.
Mandia Gonzales, a program specialist with Alta, a planning and design firm that contracts with Costa Mesa, led the walk. She wore a bright yellow safety vest to help her stand out.
After arriving at Kaiser, Gonzales and others handed out apple slices, bookmarks and stickers reading, “I walked to school today.” They also distributed surveys in English and Spanish intended to gauge students’ feelings about how walkable their communities are.
Doris Zielinski took a selfie with her daughter Sophia in front of Kaiser’s sign.
The 8-year-old third-grader was soft-spoken about her experience, except to say, “It was good.”
Zielinski added that Sophia loved watching the police escort her and her classmates.
“It made her feel special,” Zielinski said.