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Lena Davis was shouting merrily to virtually every person who crossed her path of vision this morning, and each stopped to wave back at her.
A crossing guard for 13 years, Davis knows her corner: she knows the parents and the kids who cross it, and she knows to which school they’re going, from where, and along which route. And had that route been staffed by a fresh team of yellow-vested volunteers, she would know it.
But it wasn’t — in fact, Davis hadn’t heard anything about any volunteers — despite assurances from officials last week that there would be.
Last week, the city canceled a briefing on its plan for safe routes to public schools for members of City Council. And while the mayor cut a ribbon for the city’s “Walk Safe PHL” program in late August, it wasn’t until late last week that the mayor’s press office revealed details about the city’s plan to use volunteers to man the routes. The program was begun to allay fears of parents whose children would have to walk longer distances to new schools because their old school had been closed down by the district.
On Friday, Anthony Murphy, coordinating the volunteer presence for Town Watch Integrated Services on behalf of the city, told AxisPhilly that every single designated route for kids transitioning from a school closed this spring to a new one would be manned by more than 200 trained, adult volunteers in yellow vests.
But this reporter saw no such volunteers along the mile-long route designated by Walk Safe PHL between the closed Alexander Wilson school at 46th & Woodland streets to the Henry C. Lea school at 47th & Locust streets (and which traverses a few dicey corners near Woodland Avenue).
Another crossing guard confirmed that she’d seen no volunteers and hadn’t been told anything about the program. Nichole Medley, a parent seeing her son off from his closed school, Wilson, to Lea said she had seen no volunteers. Dwight Coney, a longtime volunteer standing outside the parochial St. Francis de Sales School, said he’d seen no volunteers.
“I would have noticed,” he said.
It’s just one school, of course. Other reports today indicated that there was at least some volunteer presence around the city (2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson confirmed a volunteer presence at Childs School, 16th & Wharton Sts.) — though this reporter heard another, anecdotal, report of a lack of visible volunteers near another school, in the city’s Kensington section.
But it’s also a school that has been brought to the attention of district officials several times. At a public meeting several weeks ago, Maurice Jones, president of the Lea Home and School Association, asked school officials for a safety plan, after having presented the district with a report of his own on potential issues around the influx of new students. Later, he corresponded directly with Murphy of Town Watch.
“He assured me there’s a plan, but I just see no evidence of it,” Jones said last night.
Anthony Murphy, coordinator of the program for Town Watch, said just before noon today that he was still waiting for data on volunteer staffing this morning, and that he couldn’t confirm whether or not the route to Lea was manned.
“Folks said there were some [volunteers]” on the route, he said, “But right now I just don’t know.”
“I’m concerned about that route too,” Murphy added. “It’s a long walk.”