Volunteers give students 'safe passage' to school

December 17, 2009 (CHICAGO) They went to work today, just hours after graduating from training for the program. Three dozen residents became new members of the Safe Passage program today.

Officials at participating schools say the initiative is making a difference in keeping students safe.

More and more Chicago residents say their biggest concern about sending their children to Chicago Public Schools is safety. They believe students are safe once inside the school. The problem is getting to and from school on a daily basis. There is one organization that is doing something to help.

Thursday was the graduation ceremony in the auditorium of Myra Bradwell Math, Science and Technology Academy for 30 South Shore residents who have successfully completed training to be a Safe Passage volunteer.

Those volunteers wear orange vests or orange safe passage hats and patrol the streets around the participating schools before and after school.

"I have two kids of my own, and that is why I wanted to help the kids to make sure they get home safely," said Taihia Faulkner, Safe Passage volunteer.

The Black United Fund of Illinois has spearheaded the effort.

"It has made a tremendous difference. In 15 minutes, kids are at home. They're not loitering around in the school or at the stores," said Henry English, Black United Fund of Illinois Inc. CEO.

"We have police records as well on not only where potential incidents but actual incidents that have been reported by residents in terms of crime. And from that point, then we determine where our strength areas need to be and where we need to beef up our presence," said David Robinson, Black United Fund of Illinois Inc.

The program has been in place since October at Bradwell and at Bouchet Math and Science Academy. Bradwell Principal Justin Moore says he has noticed a decline in the number of incidents involving students thanks to the presence of the Safe Passage volunteers.

"There's been a decrease in the number of incidents outside the school on the way home," said Moore.

"I'm glad for the safe passage program. I feel a lot safer, and they feel a lot safer," said Rashita Johnson, Bradwell parent.

The school hopes to encourage others to be Safe Passage volunteers.

The Black United Fund of Illinois says it plans to expand the program to other area schools, including Parkside, O'Keefe and Mann.

Parents say they are encouraged by the program.

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