ROSELAND — Chicago Public Schools officials say newly trained Safe Passage workers will be ready to go when the first day of classes begins Monday.
On Wednesday, city officials visited a training session for workers at Chicago State University in the city's Roseland neighborhood.
CPS has created 53 new Safe Passage routes for its students after closing 50 school buildings this year due to a budget deficit.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the Safe Passage program was launched in 2009. Last year, the program employed more than 600 people. CPS officials said that number has nearly doubled for the coming school year.
Eighteen vendors from around the city were responsible for hiring Safe Passage workers. Earlier this summer, CPS conducted a "rigorous" request for proposals to select which vendors would get the job, officials said. A total of 47 vendors applied.
All who applied to work Safe Passage routes had to submit to a fingerprint-based criminal background check. CPS officials said Wednesday all background checks for those who will be on the job Monday have been completed.
More than 1,000 people wearing neon-green "CPS Community Watch" vests packed inside a Chicago State gymnasium Wednesday afternoon. There was a pep rally-type feel as Bennett, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the newly hired workers how important their job was.
Bennett told the crowd her excitement for the first day of school had made her "all jittery."
"Safe Passage is not just that yellow sign on the street," Bennett said. "Safe Passage is a comprehensive strategy. It brings trained professionals like you to the route starting Monday morning and every day throughout the year during school hours."
McCarthy said the city's CAPS officers had found more than 25,000 people living along Safe Passage routes who have agreed to sit outside their homes while children are walking to and from school to help out the Safe Passage workers.
"We know the saying 'It takes a village,'" McCarthy said. "To me, this is true community policing."
Sharine Davis, a parent from Bronzeville, said she applied to work a Safe Passage route through Bright Star Community Outreach, one of the 18 vendors selected by CPS.
Davis, who will work the route for Pershing East School, said part of the reason she applied was because she feels her neighborhood is too "segregated" by different gang factions.
"You can't go here and you can't go there," Davis said, adding she did not want her 4-year-old son to have to deal with that.
"I want him to be free to go wherever he want to go with no limitations," she said. "Get the kids to school safe because that's important."
Shunba May, of Austin, said Wednesday it would be his third year in the Safe Passage program.
The 23-year-old said for him, it is all about giving back to his community.
"That's pretty much all the reason I need," May said. "All this violence in the neighborhood — kids getting hurt, getting kidnapped, all that may happen to them — us being there makes that much of a difference."
May said his first year on the job was "brutal" because he did not really know how to handle fights breaking out or some of the other situations he encountered.
He said the Safe Passage training was helpful, although he learned most of what he needed to know on the job.
"They don't teach us like hand-to-hand combat, nothing like that," May said with a laugh. "Just the basics of how to deescalate a situation."
CPS will pay Safe Passage workers $10 per hour, and workers will be on duty any day children are in class.
Davis, a student, said she would work as a volunteer, but money can get tight.
"Sometimes you can't afford to do that when you have to work and pay your bills, so this way it's like an incentive just for making sure your kid gets to school safely," she said.