Richard Wright Public Charter School CEO and founder Marco Clark speaks at a CITYWIDE Man The Block Safe Passage Program information meeting on May 2.
For the majority of students in the nation’s capital, getting an education is not as simple as stepping onto a yellow school bus. Most of the District’s students have multiple stop changes on the train or metro bus and some even ride bikes, all of which pose their share of danger.
Richard Wright Public Charter School founder and CEO Marco Clark said he believes he has found a safer solution.
Several city government, civic organizations and community volunteers are expected to escort students from over 20 public charter schools to their mode of transportation during the CITYWIDE Man The Block Safe Passage Program on May 16.
“Kids are getting beat up on their way home,” Clark said during an information meeting at Richard Wright May 2. “The bigger the presence of adults, the lower the crime.” He said there are not enough crossing guards and safety devices, such as speed bumps, to make sure that students are safe when they go to and leave school.
The Safe Passage Program began in 2011 when the charter school opened. Due to its success, Clark expanded the program to five additional charter schools in August 2015 and has seen as many as 300 volunteers. He said he hopes the citywide event will be a unified effort to bring about awareness and advocacy around the need for safe passage for the youth. His goal is for 1,000 volunteers to serve as bike and pedestrian escort teams for students heading home from their schools.
“It may not necessarily be violence,” Clark said. “ may have to ride their bikes back and forth and they’re riding in traffic. Those are the dangers that we are trying to build awareness around in the District.”
Clark said safe passage is a citywide issue and hopes to increase safety for students going to and from school, pointing out that many students encounter problems when leaving their ward and entering unknown territory to make it to school. He also faults loitering as a problem to be combatted, particularly after school, and hopes to see the Metropolitan Police Department intervene. Some at the meeting said this might not be the best solution.
“Some of our own kids are participating sometimes in the loitering,” said Takita Mason, director of Development at Paul Public Charter School, one of the participating schools in the citywide event. “We want to get our own kids not to loiter.”
“The trick is to get students to see that the adults are working on their behalf,” Clark said. “Otherwise, the Safe Passage Program will not work.” He said he encourages volunteers to engage in positive conversations with the students while leading them to their bus stop, train station or getting them across the street while biking.
“The kids were so amazed that hundreds of people were coming together to walk them to their metro stop,” Clark said regarding a November Safe Passage event. “We got so much energy around the city about what safe passage means for our city. This May 16 thing is to get the community to see kids from a different lens. Imagine what a difference it would make if everyone could volunteer one hour.”
Participating public charter schools include: Richard Wright, Paul, IDEA, Friendship Collegiate Academy, Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools For Public Policy, Kipp DC, Washington Latin, William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, National Collegiate Preparatory, Maya Angelou, Excel Academy, Center City, Capital City, Carlos Rosario International, E.L. Haynes, Thurgood Marshall Academy, Democracy Prep Congress Heights, Washington Mathematics, Science, and Technology, Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science and Rocketship Education DC.
Principal Benjamin Williams of Empowering Males High School, a District of Columbia Public School set to open in the fall, has also shown interest in the Safe Passage Program. At this time, this is the only DCPS school who is expected to participate in the program.
Volunteers are encouraged to reach out to a school in their ward to learn more about how to participate. Dependent on the school dismissal time, volunteers are asked to commit between one and two hours. “It’s not just for that day,” he said. “It’s a sustainable program to make sure everyone has safe passage. We’re going to change the trajectory of what safe passage looks like across the country.”