This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
Safely steering kids to and from school is never an easy task.
In Philadelphia, there’s an extra challenge this year. As the School District faces an unprecedented financial crisis, about 9,000 of the city’s 134,000 students will be heading to a new school because their former one was closed or consolidated in June.
That means kids will be traversing through unfamiliar neighborhoods, past different intersections and around novel corners.
School District and city officials say they have stepped up their efforts in the wake of 24 schools shutting down. But some parents and teachers are concerned that they are not fully prepared.
As part of an initiative called WalkSafePHL, the District, city government, and SEPTA police teamed up to develop new routes that students can take to school. Anthony Murphy, executive director of the city’s Town Watch Integrated Services, said the trips were developed using police and School District data.
"We wanted to make sure we used the most direct route from the closing-school catchment area to the welcoming school," he said.
Murphy said that crossing guards, police officers, and at least 260 trained volunteers will be on the streets to help get kids to school safely. If trouble arises, he said, volunteers have been told not to intervene and instead to call 911.
"The role of the volunteers is to provide that adult presence," Murphy said. "That will give our children an atmosphere of safety as they’re traveling to and from school."
Karyn Lynch, chief of the School District’s student support services, added that the routes have been extensively test-run.
"We had interns throughout the summer and professional staff that the city identified that walked each and every one of these routes several times," she said.
But Lavarr Dixon, a math and science teacher at Warren G. Harding Middle School in the Frankford section, questioned whether volunteers will be able to protect children on their way to school. Harding will be receiving new students from the now-shuttered Carnell Middle Years Annex at Fels.