The Sheriff's Office urgently needs more crossing guards for Loudoun County's growing school system, which is opening five schools this year.

The department needs 10 more guards before an estimated 47,000 students -- 3,400 more than last year -- return to school Aug. 29. Half of those positions are in South Riding, where Freedom High School will open next month.

Willy Stevenson, who supervises the county's crossing guard program, said it has become increasingly difficult to recruit guards. Stevenson began working as a guard in 1986 when her two children attended Rolling Ridge Elementary School in Sterling. At that time, most guards were in their thirties, and most were parents.

Today, however, you would be hard-pressed to find a guard younger than 50, Stevenson said. Most young parents aren't looking to make extra cash, she said, and those who are seeking work want a full-time job with benefits.

The salary for a crossing guard is $12.88 to $17 an hour, which Stevenson called "exceptional." On the downside, she said, an average shift runs less than two hours, from 7:20 to 9 a.m. and from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

Stevenson began recruiting guards in June, handing out 700 fliers to students, posting them at grocery stores, and placing advertisements with local newspapers and television and radio stations. But she has yet to receive one response. One of her positions in South Riding has been open 18 months.

Meanwhile, Stevenson has scrambled to fill the vacancies, often using substitute guards, and when those aren't available, picking up the slack herself. Sometimes she has to ask sheriff's deputies -- as many as six a day -- to leave their street duties and help children cross busy intersections. "It's a big concern," she said of taking deputies away from their work.

Stevenson said that she wants 57 guards in place by August and that the need for guards will continue as the county's population grows and traffic becomes more congested. Traffic once confined to major roads has spilled over onto small back roads near many elementary and middle schools, making them unsafe for young walkers. The county is expected to open three to five schools every year for at least the next decade.

Stevenson encouraged parents to consider being a crossing guard as a way to become involved in the community.

"You feel like you're doing something for your community, and that means having a relationship with the school on a different level than just being a parent," she said.