WalkSafePHL: Helping Philadelphia students get to school safely

PHILADELPHIA - September 17, 2013

It's called WalkSafePHL and on Tuesday volunteers in bright neon vests were outside the Ethel Allen Public School in Strawberry Mansion at dismissal.

"I am just here to protect the children," volunteer Mark Rucar said.

Each morning and each afternoon, the volunteers are positioned throughout the neighborhood helping children come and go to school safely.

The program is coordinated by the city's Town Watch program.

"We recruit volunteers. We provide training. We do background checks. Criminal checks. Child abuse clearances and we get them to come out rain, sleet, snow or shine," executive director Anthony Murphy said.

The safe corridor program was started because of concerns about safety as public schools closed and consolidated due to budget cuts. This year, many kids are walking unfamiliar and often longer routes.

"A kid may be coming from across Diamond Street that's not accustomed to coming up here, but he sees familiar faces. All the people that are volunteers are from this community," Amin Caldwell from Town Watch said.

Also, neighborhood businesses have been identified as a safe havens - places for children in trouble can find an adult to dial 911.

Just yesterday, a 12-year-old boy was sexually assaulted by an older boy while walking to the Morton McMichael Elementary school in Mantua.

Superintendent William Hite said the district is reviewing the safe corridors in that neighborhood now; he sees what's happening in Strawberry Mansion as a model for the entire city.

"It just illustrates why we have to be a lot more vigilant around our children going to and coming from school," Hite said.

Parents like what they see - volunteers in bright vests looking to keep their kids safe.

"They know the kids. The kids know them. So that's a really good idea," parent Latiyfa Mustafa said.

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