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Chicago Kids Start Year With Stressful Walk to School

By Mark Konkol | August 26, 2013 12:44am
 The first day of school at Alex Haley started off smoothly as kids from now-closed West Pullman Elementary traveled safe passage routes fro the first day of school.
Alex Haley Safe Passage
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"Can you take me to the store and buy me some homework?”

That’s what my mom tells people I asked her in 1978 just before my first day of school at Eisenhower Elementary.

I was an eager little kid excited to start learning.

Thirty-five years later, I found myself thinking about my walk to school — look both ways, sprint across the street, through the field, past the swings and under the monkey bars to line up before the first bell rang — and how different that was from what some Chicago kids will go through when school starts Monday.

A lot of Chicago Public School kids will walk through rival gang turf, down streets lined with yellow signs promising "safe passage" and heavily guarded by cops on foot, cops on bikes, cops in patrol cars, firefighters and crossing guards for the first day of school.

They'll take that walk even though a lot of people — their parents, cousins and neighbors — worry that they’ll get beat up, shot up or worse.

All morning long, people all over the country will be watching, waiting and hoping that the reason we need so many of these safe passage routes — Mayor Rahm Emanuel's successful push for the largest number of school closings in U.S. history in the name of school reform — doesn't lead to senseless tragedies.

And that's all before the first bell rings.

Man, I had it easy.