DISTRICT | August 30, 2018
Monday through Friday, all summer long, Ricky Jones has put on his green vest and stood watch in front of Jesse Owens Park, located in the Calumet Heights neighborhood.
Jones is a safe passage worker.
WHAT IS SAFE PASSAGE?
During the school year, Jones and roughly 1,350 Safe Passage workers, from 20 community-based organizations, will stand their post to ensure students safely travel to and from school.
And even when school is out for the summer, they still work. They’re strategically placed along routes to the local parks and schools to make sure children and teens can travel safely to and from their summer activities.
Each school that participates in the program has a tailored strategy, which takes into consideration the school’s community, popular modes of student transportation and arrival and dismissal times.
This year, the program has expanded to include Deneen, O’Keefe, and Pickard Elementary Schools.
SAFE PASSAGE WORKERS
“I enjoy it,” said Jones. “I love what I do. It’s for the people, the community.”
He has been a Safe Passage worker for a year and a half, and was even promoted to a base operator/supervisor that oversees a small team.
The job is about more than keeping the students safe, he said, but also about building relationships with the community. Jones said he chats with the familiar faces everyday and he looks forward to the conversations and smiles.
“We interact with the public, the commuters,” he said. “We greet them, ‘Good day,’ ‘Good morning,’ and ‘How’s your day going?’ They really appreciate us being out here.”
Jones said he makes it his job to know every student and parent who walks by him.
When school starts Tuesday, Sept. 4, he will be stationed at Warren Elementary School.
Safe Passage worker, Reginald Echols, will be celebrating nine years on the job when school starts. This summer he’s been based at Grand Crossing Park, but next month he will be stationed along a route to Wentworth Elementary School.
In the past, he’s been at both South Shore High School and Harvard Elementary School.
“I was concerned about the children in the area,” Echols said, explaining why he took the job. “I decided that this was my way of giving.”
The collaborative city effort has shown that Safe Passage keeps students safe during their daily commutes, reducing crime along routes and promoting attendance at supported schools.
Since the program was implemented in 2009, with only 35 schools and 650 workers, it has expanded to 160 schools and now serves 80,000 students.
There have been no serious incidents along Safe Passage routes involving a student while Safe Passage workers have been present. According to an analysis of CPD crime statistics, crime along Safe Passage routes, during school hours has decreased by 32 percent since 2012. There’s also a 9 percent reduction in crime from 2017 to 2018.
The program has also shown to improve attendance at the schools served.
The impact is hard to miss, said Echols.
“Everywhere we’re at, the crime rate goes down,” he said. “They’re placing us at more schools because it’s effective.”
“Our presence makes people aware that we are out here and it sends the message that we do care about our students and staff,” said Jones.
Both workers said they want to see it expand.
“I hope it goes international, world-wide, but it doesn’t stop here,” said Jones. “I hope to continue doing this.”