Getting To and From Schools in Detroit, Elsewhere, Terrifies Kids

Most education reform efforts focus on what happens inside the classroom, but getting there and back safely is a priority in urban districts nationwide.

Detroit is one of 10 cities, and the first of six when a school safety initiative began in 2010, to be a part of President Barack Obama’s National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. There is little data to back them up, but officials who are participating say that the effort to stem youth violence seems to be working, during their news conference at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, where they discussed their successes and strategies for continual improvement.

Gus Burns, reporting for MLive, adds that a dramatic statistic came from Annie Elington, director of the Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, who said that 87% of 1,301 Detroit Public Schools students surveyed in the last year knew someone who was killed, disabled, or wounded by gun violence.

Three schools are being singled out in the Detroit initiative, Cody High School, Osborn and Denby high schools.  One of the ideas to insulate students from violence is to create safe routes to schools. Some of the participating officials are working with students to develop routes to which the school district will add signs and “footprints” so that students are ensured they are on the safest path.

The city is chipping in by replacing lighting along routes and razing damaged structures. Mayor Mike Duggan wants to help, as well.  His plans include:

• Illuminating all neighborhoods in accordance with national standards

• Creating 5,000 jobs for youth next summer

• Improving the city further by the city auctions, two per day, which have generated investment in vacant properties

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin says many students express concern about their safety as they walk to and from school.  WWJ TV, the Detroit CBS affiliate, reports that most of the 50,000 plus Detroit public school kids are afraid of simply getting to school.

“It’s also the number one thing parents tell me they are worried about as it relates to their children attending school, safety is number one, customer service is number two and academic performance is number three in terms of how parents look at their priorities in terms of where they send their children to school,” said Martin.

Martin continued by saying that not only is his agency working on improving lighting along routes, installing new signage, and removing blight, but also adding enforcement resources across the 34 safe zones.

“These DDOT police will be at critical bus stops where we know there have been incidents,”said Martin. “We are looking for more assistance from law enforcement so that we know our safe route patrollers know that they have the back-up of sworn police officers.”

An increased police presence will be available, says Tresa Baldas of the Detroit FreePress.  The police know that no one solution or entity can keep the children safe in Detroit.  So does the Department of Justice and several foundations which are all a part of a national task force to help 10 cities nationwide that are combating youth violence, including Detroit, Boston, and Chicago.

“We are working in the trenches to do all we can to protect youth from violence and prevent violence,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said at the conference at Detroit police headquarters.

McQuade said that Detroit’s program has four parts, writes Oralandar Brand-Williams of The Detroit News: safe routes to school, safety stations in school to dispense helpful information, a cease-fire program for current and former gang members, and summer jobs for youth.

In an opinion piece written for the Detroit Free Press, Tonya Allen,  president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, says the state of Detroit schools is reprehensible. Between the political squabbling and the finger-pointing, everyone is doing a lousy job.  She believes there can be improvement, but not by doing the same thing over, and over, and over.

Her suggestions include:

• Educators must run schools.

• All schools and educators must be accountable for academic performance.

• School choice means accessible and equitable schools for all children.

• Believe that having great schools is possible.

• Give every child a good school; they deserve it.