Sunday, March 24, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Parents meeting about their students’ sometimes dangerous paths to and from school. A parent-led committee has launched the Smart Routes program as a solution to the problem. | Submitted photo
A group of parents in Proviso Township have taken the safety of their children in their own hands with a project next school year that they hope will make it safer for students in Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 to get to and from school.
Marche Williams, a parent of two young boys in D89, said that the idea came about after he and a group of other D89 parents started to meet about some of the district’s most pressing challenges.
“The biggest topic was the children’s safety, [particularly around Irving Middle School, 805 S. 17th Ave. in Maywood],” he said during a recent interview. “The parents agreed that we’d make that our starting point for our Safety and Violence Prevention Committee.”
That committee, which Williams chairs, is an offshoot of the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership — a faith-based social justice nonprofit based in Maywood.
“Over the last year, our team of Maywood parents, youth and elderly from CSPL’s Safety and Violence Prevention Committee have listened to hundreds of local parents and residents, and what we have heard is that a program that would place community-rooted adults on the streets to help ensure that students can safely walk to and from school in the mornings or afternoons would be a tremendous addition to the Maywood community,” Williams explained in a March 14 letter to Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins.
Williams presented the proposal for what his committee is calling a “Smart Routes to School” program to the Maywood Board of Trustees at a regular meeting on March 19. The committee identified four smart passage routes along major streets near Irving — including Washington Boulevard, Madison Street and St. Charles Road — for adults to concentrate their collective presence.
The program would cost an estimated $117,952, according to Williams’ proposal. Personnel would include eight part-time route workers paid $11 an hour, a full-time Proviso Township Smart Routes director paid $25,000 and roughly $30,000 for supplies, training and liability insurance.
A map of the proposed Irving Safe Routes. | Screenshot of Marche Williams’ proposal
Williams is hoping that District 89, the village of Maywood and Proviso Township each contribute a portion of the funds for the pilot program to debut at Irving, which he said could be expanded to include more area schools in the future. The pilot program, he explained, could launch in the 2019-20 school year if all goes according to plan. At last week’s meeting, Williams requested that Maywood contribute $40,000 to the program.
In addition to the paid workers, Williams said that the committee will also recruit “a volunteer base of local adult residents as an additional support base.”
Lorenzo Webber, the built environment lead for Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H), a network of community partners seeking to address a range of issues in the township, said that the “overarching goal” of the Smart Routes program is to improve how students get to and from school.
“The pilot at Irving will focus on monitoring traffic and having an increased adult presence,” said Webber, who also works for Proviso Township’s youth services division and served on a task force for D89’s strategic planning committee. Webber said that the Safety and Violence Prevention Committee is the result of a community safety summit that PP4H held in February 2018.
Webber explained that, although the Smart Routes program is similar to Safe Passage Routes — a program implemented by Chicago Public Schools to help students navigate safely to and from schools, often in gang territories — the Safety and Violence Prevention Committee doesn’t want to overplay the similarities, particularly since D89 and CPS are two distinct school districts in two distinct environments.
“The parents in D89 aren’t necessarily worried about gang territory, but about creating a positive presence for children coming to and from those areas,” he said. “Parents were concerned about fights that might occasionally take place after school, suspicious individuals and dangerous traffic patterns in the area.”
Williams added that increasing the adult pedestrian presence near Irving would also “get kids out walking and riding their bikes to school” instead of “getting dropped off by parents every morning, which creates more traffic.”
Williams said that the committee has received support from D89, Proviso Township, the village of Melrose Park, the village of Maywood and area police departments. During last week’s Maywood board meeting, he said that he plans on reaching out to other potential partners like the Maywood Park District. He said that Broadview village officials will be looking closely at the pilot program as the committee seeks to expand the Smart Routes initiative to other schools in the township.
During the meeting, D89 board member Regina Rivers, who is also Proviso Township’s Youth Services director, said no existing crossing guards will be replaced by the Smart Routes program and the Smart Routes workers won’t interfere with the work of crossing guards.
“This is just an added level of safety for our youth,” Rivers told Maywood board members. “It’s also an opportunity for trained adults to interact with youth, promote their positive attitudes and change the culture of the community.”
Ray Lauk, D89’s business manager, said that Smart Routes workers will be positioned in their assigned zones in the morning along the program’s designated routes in order to monitor students, who often get to school at different times.
“Those coordinators would have a station to be at,” he told Maywood trustees last week. “At the end of the day, they’d start off at school as the first group of students leaves school down those main routes. Those are major routes that kids tend to travel and as students leave school, there will be a second coordinator bringing up the rear.”
Many Maywood trustees expressed support for the proposal, but cautioned that they’d have to find room in the village’s already strained budget.
Michael A. Corrigan, the Proviso Township supervisor, responded that the township has “similar budget issues,” but that township officials plan on spreading out its funding responsibility for the Smart Routes program over two fiscal years.
Corrigan said the township intends to fund a portion of its amount in the upcoming fiscal year and “fund the balance over the course of time, because they’re not going to need all that money all at once.”
Williams said that the pilot program is a wise expenditure.
“By having this project in place, you have a group of staff members who could be parents, grandparents or guardians of students taking them along multiple safe routes through school and away from high-traffic areas,” he said. “Seeing adults in the area will make students pay closer attention to traffic safety.” VFP
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