Sep 7, 2010

 

Wearing neon yellow vests and packing cell phones, more than a dozen "community watchers'' will line the busiest street leading to Corliss High School for a mile today as a new Safe Passage program sweeps across the city's public high schools.

These new "eyes and ears on the street" already have made some kids feel safer at Corliss, a year-round school that launched its Safe Passage program in early August when its classes began.

"People are not going to do anything when they see adults around,'' Corliss junior Louise Bohannon, 17, said last week. "We have somebody now to watch us.''

After the tensest budget season in years, Chicago Public Schools throw open their doors for the start of the traditional school year today with more kids than last year, fewer teachers, longer bus rides, but, around some schools like Corliss, more security.

With massive systemwide cost- cutting, the Safe Passage program is one of the few CPS efforts to expand -- from the $2 million originally envisioned for this school year to $8 million, and from the 13 high schools once planned to 23 schools by October.

Not all kids are convinced the 20 community watchers around Corliss High School, at 103rd and Corliss, will make a difference.

"They can't jump in front of any bullets,'' said one 16-year-old Corliss junior.

But Principal Anthony Spivey thinks the program already has had an impact.

On Aug. 11, Spivey said, an alert Corliss community watcher spotted a group of gang members, including some Corliss students, gathering at a park and alerted the principal and police. Spivey and security officers went to the park, averting trouble. They learned the group apparently was headed for another gang positioned at a gas station.

Officials later determined that the first group was intent on retaliating against the second for a gang shooting the day before that inadvertently claimed the life of 8-year-old Tanaja Stokes as she jumped rope with her cousin.

"If the community watchers had not been out here, we'd have been on the inside, not knowing what was going on outside,'' Spivey said.

The Safe Passage program is one prong of a three-part anti-violence plan designed to reduce student shootings that have plagued CPS in recent years. Budget-tightening shrank the overall $60 million, two-year effort to a $40 million one, but the Safe Passage part grew, as police and school officials identified more troublesome school passage ways, said CPS Safety and Security Chief Michael Shields.

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