A group of parents and community members gathered in the quiet auditorium of Penn Elementary School on the West Side Friday to hear how Chicago Public Schools officials are going to work to keep their kids safe this upcoming school year.
After all, a man was shot in May across the street from the North Lawndale school.
Next year, officials hope, terrifying violence won’t affect the kids in or around the school.
“We got Safe Passage this upcoming school year!” Penn Principal Sherryl Ollie told the group of about 20 gathered at the school.
Penn and five other neighborhood schools will have new Safe Passage routes starting in September when school starts, Jadine Chou, CPS’ chief safety and security officer, said Friday.
The routes have been created because Penn and the other schools received kids from schools closed in June 2013, though Penn and the other schools were not designated “welcoming schools.”
Penn has 47 students from a closed school.
Including Penn, the schools getting the new designated safety walking routes, which is a $1 million dollar expansion to the program, are:
Crown Community Academy of Fine Arts, which has 82 students from closed schools.
Langford Community Academy, which has 78 students from closed schools.
Lawndale Elementary Community Academy, which has 26 students from closed schools.
Mason Elementary School, which has 36 students from closed schools.
Metcalfe Elementary Community Academy, which was 80 students from closed schools.
Six other schools — either new colocations, when one school shares a building with another, or schools in new buildings — will also have the new routes, which are predetermined walking routes for children to take to school, according to CPS officials.
The routes are staffed by workers who wear fluorescent vests and greet the children as they walk to-and-from school.
Last year, CPS added 53 new routes for 46 welcoming schools and 7 colocations, according to district officials.
CPS said it has budgeted $16 million for the Safe Passage program this year, which has almost 100 routes across the city and more than 1,300 workers.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” Chou told the group Friday at Penn, which shares its building with KIPP Ascend Academy Charter Elementary School.
The charter school’s principal, Lauren Henley, suggested to Chou the route be extended west on 16th Street to reach a busy bus stop at Pulaski.
And Leonard Hunt, 47, who has three kids at the West Side school, wanted the 16th Street route extended east too. There’s a store along the way where young, unruly guys hang out and they don’t respect the kids, Hunt said.
He praised CPS’ decision to try to ease the fear kids face being out in the neighborhood.
“Our kids aren’t even able to have fun no more,” Hunt said.
After meeting with parents, Chou said, “Our big hope is to build upon what we did with Safe Passage in other areas — by building a sense of community, by getting community members and parents involved, and by getting our kids to and from school safely.”