With the first day of school less than two weeks away, Philadelphia officials put in place a series of steps to ensure students get to and from school safely after a summer of gun violence.
Philadelphia police said 137 victims under the age of 18 were injured by gun violence this year. Thirty-two have been homicides.
As the first day of school approaches, August 31, these numbers are of concern to city and school officials as they seek volunteers to help with programs and initiatives aimed at keeping students safe. .
During a virtual press conference Wednesday, city officials, the police department and the Office of School Safety outlined ways the public can help protect students, including the Safe Corridors neighborhood watch program. . The announcement came as Mayor Jim Kenney faced criticism for his decision not to declare a state of emergency over the recent gun violence crisis in the city. The number of deaths in the city is 339, 22% more than last year.
“[Safe Corridors] it is similar to a neighborhood watch program where volunteers can choose to patrol the routes around schools at the beginning and end of the school day, or to watch from their homes or businesses, ”said Kenney. “Volunteers often work in teams sharing information, reporting any unusual or suspicious activity.”
Another initiative is the Out of School program, which provides learning opportunities for students before and after school hours and is also offered during vacations and summer. There is also a component for early learners, according to Waleska Maldonado, head of prevention for the city’s Office for Children and Families.
OCF funds more than 50 community organizations that will serve 6,100 students in 128 schools this fall.
The city’s new anti-violence community outreach grants are also available to organizations that provide student safety programs. Funding ranging from $ 100,000 to $ 1 million will be awarded to community-based organizations with annual operating budgets of less than $ 15 million that have a proven track record of working in neighborhoods vulnerable to gun violence Groups can apply for $ 22 program grants million before September. 3 deadline.
“As we all know, it has been a difficult 17 months for our youth, particularly with the increasing level of violence in the city, which is affecting our students,” said Kevin Bethel, chief of police for the school district. “I cannot emphasize more that when we have a city of this size, and the number of streets and corridors that we have, we have to have community participation to help us support our children.”
Bethel said her department will host meetings in six divisions where stakeholders can voice their concerns.
The department is working with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA, to ensure students get to school safely by public transportation, and with Operation Town Watch Integrated Services, which trains volunteers to patrol areas and document suspicious activity.
“We will use school resource officers to ensure a greater physical presence, particularly during student arrival and dismissal times,” Kenney said. “We know that after-school hours are also critical times for students who are most at risk for unsafe behavior.”
Students returning on Aug. 31 will see an increased level of counseling support to help them cope with personal setbacks due to the pandemic, according to Superintendent William Hite.
“We will provide a much-needed infusion of social-emotional support and services to our students, with an emphasis on students who have been greatly affected by the increase in violence in our city,” said Evelyn Nuñez, district chief of schools. The funds for the additional support will come from the COVID relief money that the federal government has allocated for K-12 schools in the US.
Officers present during Wednesday’s press conference connected the city’s gun violence and its impact on youth in the area.
Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Commissioner Joel Dales said a 15-year-old girl who played basketball was shot twice in the head Tuesday in the 1900 block of West Ontario Street at the Jerome Brown Playground in the Tioga-Nicetown section. from the city.
“Another kid who was enjoying the summer night playing, hanging out, doing what kids are supposed to do, was shot twice in the head,” Dales said.
“There are too many people who commit careless acts of violence like this on a regular basis. When will it be enough? ”