Yesterday was the first day of Chicago's Safe Passage program. The safety plan was enacted after the closing of 47 Chicago Public Schools placed thousands of grade school students into new schools where the possibility of confrontation between rival gang members both on the streets and in the schools, caused many parents to fear for their child's safety.
Police worked with residents and CPS to map out routes near 52 of the so-called "welcoming schools" that are taking in students from the closed schools. Along those routes, the city has put up scores of "Safe Passage" signs.
The Chicago Tribune reported that hundreds of newly hired Safe Passage workers were stationed along specially designated routes between dozens of closed schools and the welcoming schools designated by the district. A significant show of police force also was on hand around many of the welcoming schools.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Monday he felt good about the first day of the intensified focus on school safety, while acknowledging there was a long way to go. "If this were a football game, it's the first quarter," McCarthy said. "It's starting off well and we feel good."
Kathy Miller stood in front of Gresham Elementary with her three children, waiting for a bus that would take them to another school. She scoffed at the Safe Passage program, in which guards clad in neon vests line Chicago streets, saying it won't be long before brightly colored signs announcing the program's routes will be riddled with bullets, reported Fox News Chicago.
"Those signs don't mean nothing," she said.
So what have we learned after the first day of the Safe Passage program?
1. Massive police presence can make a difference.
2. Parents will get involved in programs to protect their children. It helps if the police are nearby to back them up.
3. Kids will be kids. According to the Chicago Tribune, dozens of children leaving Curtis Elementary in Roseland after school did not return home on the Safe Passage routes. Some cut through a vacant lot across from the school and others hustled down South Michigan Avenue, off the route. Some children crowded into a nearby candy store before scattering away in improvised, and unprotected, walks home. Similar scenes were witnessed at other schools.
4. Though the program had a successful first day, there are many who still have doubts about its long-term success.
5. Safe Passage workers are armed only with CPS cellphones to call 911.
The training Safe Passage guards received from Police Cmdr. Kevin Ryan, head of the gang enforcement division, and Gregory Sain, a CPS community safety liaison is worth noting.
1. Concentrate on being the eyes and ears for police and warned them against inserting themselves into a fight, and to contact police instead.
2. Look for warning signs before a situation explodes, such as groups of teens “jaw-jacking” and posturing at each other on different sides of a street.
3. Pushed relationship-building and calming stressful situations.
4. Try to understand precipitating factors that could lead kids to act out, such as difficulties at home and pressure from peers.
5. Safe Passage workers can’t control those factors but can always control their response, and to see every interaction with children on the routes as a chance for dialogue.
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