Program provides students 'Safe Passage' to school

September 7, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Tuesday at Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th Street, students weren't the only ones with first-day jitters.

"Because of gun violence and any other type of violence, I want to just make sure he's safe when he gets to and from school," said Donald Watson, Sr., the parent of Bowen student.

But, this year, there are more eyes and ears around Bowen.

"Just making sure everybody keeps traveling, keeps walking, nobody's going to stop and conversate and start any problems," said Mary Ellen Diaz, Safe Passage monitor.

It's called Safe Passage, an $8 million program funded by federal stimulus dollars. Trained monitors, equipped with cell phones and highly-visible clothing, are being stationed on several blocks around some schools.

"I think for the most part it will be a big deterrent, if they think there are other people watching and seeing, they'll be a little more discerning in what they're doing," said Loretta Goodman, grandmother of Bowen student.

Safe Passage base operator Robert Davila didn't spot any trouble on the first day.

"It was nice and sunny, first day of school, so everybody's excited," said Davila.

The monitors are not trained to enforce the law, only to observe and report.

They can relay information to CPS headquarters. There, officials have access to thousands of school surveillance cameras and can track the location of Safe Passage monitors using cell phone GPS.

Success, officials say, will be judged by attendance.

"Our goal is to either have 90 percent attendance at each school, or a 10 percent increase based on where they were last year," said deputy director Vaughn Bryant, CPS Office of Safety and Security.

The monitors earn about $10 an hour and they will be stationed at 23 schools this year.

Other schools, including the South Side's Dubois Elementary, are using volunteers.

"Men are in the neighborhood, and we're going to stand strong with our children going to school and returning from school," said Bishop Troy Garner, Sr., Promise Center.

A recent survey determined that 40 percent of CPS students don't feel safe traveling to and from school.

The hope is that, if these monitors can deter crime and other incidents, perception of safety will improve. And, hopefully, so will attendance and achievement.

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