Darren Woodruff is chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. Marco Clark is founder and chief executive of Richard Wright Public Charter School.
When you send your kids off to school in the morning, you expect that they’ll return home safely. But for too many D.C. families, the expectation of safe passage isn’t guaranteed.
Since the start of the school year, an average of eight students each month have been the victim of robberies around the District. In a heart-wrenching episode, a high school student was stabbed to death by a fellow student while heading home from school.
No student should have to fear the journey home. That’s why partners across the District are stepping up to prevent further harm to students. Recently, representatives from a variety of educational, civic and government organizations participated in the citywide Man the Block Safe Passage Program.
Man the Block is an initiative created by Southeast D.C.’s Richard Wright Public Charter School in 2011 to help students get to and from school safely. Richard Wright parents, staff members and other adults have lined the streets between the school and the closest Metro stop at the start and end of the school day, ensuring that walkways are safe, free of harassment and clear of drugs and alcohol.
After seeing Man the Block work at their school, leaders at Richard Wright realized the need to have Safe Passage extended to students in every neighborhood, so they worked with other schools and city agencies to expand the program. They’ve brought in volunteer organizations, including Omega Psi Phi fraternity, 100 Fathers, volunteers from the D.C. Council, universities, businesses and even the Marines.
As a result, thousands of students have safer passages between school and home.
The benefits of the program extend beyond safety. The involvement of families and other community leaders sends an unmistakable message to students that adults support and stand with them. Students see that the community cares about their future and is committed to ensuring they get a great education in a safe environment.
Ensuring student safety is something every adult can get involved in, and not just through official Man the Block events. About 30,000 students every day take free trips on Metro trains and buses through Metro’s Kids Ride Free programs. These students attend schools in every ward, and they need adults to help maintain safe neighborhoods.
When you drop your child off at school or pick him or her up, stick around a few extra minutes to make sure other students getting on the bus or walking to the Metro get there safely.
If you have a home or business near a school, take time around arrival and dismissal time to stand outside and help keep an eye on the street. Call, email or visit your nearest school to see what their greatest needs are and how you might be able to help.
This issue goes beyond school safety. This is about keeping all of our children safe. We all want D.C.’s children to live in a safe city, a place where they can learn, play and grow without the threat of violence or other bad influences. Keeping our children safe has always been a community-wide effort, and it still is today.