Safe Passage program expanded to protect kids in summer programs

- Zyonna Bragg wants to help other parents keep their kids safe.

That’s why the Chicago Public Schools mom stands patrol in a neon vest, watching over kids on their way to classes at Crown Academy. She works for the Safe Passage program at the school “to ensure the safety of the youth.”

“I saw that kids needed just a little more attention,” said Bragg, who was born and raised in North Lawndale, where the school is located. “They were starting younger walking by themselves.”

Safe Passage at CPS has been around since 2009 to monitor kids walking to and from school in at-risk neighborhoods, and Bragg said she hopes it continues for a long time.

A new $112,500 initiative modeled after Safe Passage is being launched to watch over children headed to the parks for summer programs, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

The summer safety program will employ 150 workers like Bragg to be the eyes and ears for youth activity participants getting to and from recreational activities.

The summer initiative’s employees are hired by the CPS Office of Safety and Security and trained in relationship-building skills and de-escalation strategies.

The new Safe Passage-inspired program will roll out at 20 parks beginning this week, funded by the Chicago Park District but run by Chicago Public Schools.

Community members and residents recruited for the summer initiative won’t necessarily be the same ones who work Safe Passage routes during the school year, according to the mayor’s office, but their training will be similar.

Workers may have to deal with harassment and conflicts between adults — relatively common situations along Safe Passage routes — or, more rarely, nearby robberies, said Jadine Chou, the chief safety and security officer for CPS.

Bragg said her training for Safe Passage at CPS prepared her for those problems. She has intervened in altercations between adults and reported those conflicts.

“In a normal situation, if I had just been a parent walking, I probably would have tried to stay out of the situation and just let it be,” Bragg said.

Unlike the Safe Passage program, which operates before and after school hours, the program at the parks will be scheduled in late afternoons and evenings around programming for teens.

The later hours will create additional challenges for workers and a different focus in training, said CPS’s Chou.

“By the time they’re off their shift, it’s most likely going to be dark,” she said. “There’s going to be a little extra attention focused on being alert to the environment in the evenings.”

In situations that escalate beyond the scope of their preparation, summer safety initiative workers might seek assistance from Chicago Police Department officers, Chou said.

For the summer program, CPS is working with the Park District and CPD to decide where employees should stand along routes to the parks where teens participate in basketball programs such as Windy City Hoops and Teen League.

The program will run Thursday through Saturday until Aug. 20. If the initiative is successful, it might be expanded next summer, according to the mayor’s office.

The idea for the expansion was floated to Mayor Rahm Emanuel just last month.

Emanuel was speaking at a rally, lauding the Safe Passage program, which expanded from 35 schools in 2011 to 140 this year. Afterward, a worker suggested extending the program to the parks.

“As I was doing selfies with employees, shaking hands, a guy shook my hand and threw an idea out, and a mini thunderbolt hit me,” Emanuel said.

The mayor said the Safe Passage program at CPS has been successful and he’s “extremely confident” in the training provided for the new pilot.

“It puts a clear signal: This route is for the safety of our children and there’s somebody on watch there,” he said. “We want our kids safe. And we want them to enjoy their youth, and we want them to enjoy the parks.”

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