Covering Chicago's Back-to-School Season

Safe Passage Workers Prepare for First Day of School

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Thousands of CPS students head back to school tomorrow, many of them will travel along routes manned with workers, there to keep them safe

    Monday marks the first day of school for Chicago Public Schools and city residents and workers are gearing up for the back-to-school frenzy.

    David Starks said he will be working along the city's designated safe passage routes for six hours each day monitoring students as they go to and from school with his "eyes open for any suspiscious activities harmful to youth."

    Starks is among hundreds of safe passage workers escorting thousands of children to and from school, many of them walking further than before and along routes they've never traveled.

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    "We are given a phone and we are able to make calls, contact the Chicago Police office and our supervisors," Starks said.

    Earlier this month, safe passage workers took part in hands-on training sessions to prepare them for the job of watching over all of the routes, including an additional 53 routes as a result of school closings.

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    What was billed as the final training session for Chicago Public Schools safe passage workers resembled more of a pep rally on Wednesday. More than 600 workers gathered to hear speakers such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPD superintendant Garry McCarthy and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett talk abut the importance of keeping school kids safe when classes being on Monday.

    Officials also said probationary officers will be stationed along the routes starting this week.

    "I grew up in a bad neighborhood, so I really feel like we really need all of us out there," safe passage worker Darrell Thomas said.

    But safe passage itself has come under fire after numerous shootings, including last week's mass Uptown firing, have occurred along the routes that kids will walk.

    "It's dangerous everywhere in Chicago," Starks said.

    Officials with the Black Star Project say their efforts to get fathers to bring their children to school will also help curb the violence and have organized the Million Father March to encourage men in the city to step up.

    "It will absolutely help," said Phillip Jackson, executive director for the Black Star Project, which puts on the march each year. "The more fathers we can get engaged, the lower the crime will be."

    Officials say violence on the routes is actually down, but some of the workers still have it in the back of their minds.

    Some residents say it's just a part of urban living.

    "Bad things are going to happen. When I'm out there, I'm definitely going to try and prevent these crimes from happening," Thomas said.