At Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, the first day of school professed smoothly on the morning of September 2, 2014. Safe passage crossing guards like Evelyn Rivera helped students at Western and Division get into the school. | Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 3, 2014 6:29AM
With school set to start Tuesday for more than 400,000 students at Chicago Public Schools, Walter Turner found himself in a long line at the Forman Mills store on Damen Avenue on Monday.
But he wasn’t surprised.
“Just like myself, it’s last minute,” he said of other back-to-school shoppers. “I work six days a week, so this was the time I was able to” shop.
He was buying pants and shirts for his son, Damien Crawford, who is starting third grade at Tanner Elementary School.
“I want him to be prepared for his first day,” Turner said.
Aisha Conner put off preparing Labor Day dinner Monday to shop on Ashland Avenue for school clothes and supplies for her 13-year-old son, Tremon. She was accompanied by her son Tremaine, 20.
“We started yesterday,” she said and resumed the task after she got off work Monday.
“We’re trying to go home and barbecue,” but that would have to wait until they hit one more store, she said.
School officials are hoping to see strong attendance on the first day. Studies have long proven that attendance on the first day of school is essential to the academic success of students throughout the year, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, has emphasized. She has also said that students who attend on the first day are far more likely to keep coming to class. Attendance also affects funding for schools.
As students return to classes, the city is prepared to keep them safe through its Safe Passage program, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Monday.
Police will be out there “in full force,” using the same strategy,” he said as he released monthly crime statistics at police headquarters.
“The consternation last year going into the school year really revolved completely around the fact that kids had to ‘cross gang lines,’ ” McCarthy said. “Well, nothing happened. So it was pretty successful.”
The Safe Passage program, a collaboration between CPS and the police department, was launched in 2009 around high schools with safety concerns. It was doubled last year after CPS closed 50 elementary schools. CPS has cited a 20 percent decline in criminal incidents around Safe Passage schools; a 27 percent drop in incidents among students; and a 7 percent increase in attendance over the past two years in high schools that already participate.
The CTA is offering free rides for students Tuesday as part of a program sponsored by Sun-Times Media for the third year in a row. Last year, the CTA’s First Day, Free Rides program provided more than 147,000 free rides to students, according to the transit agency.
Students also are eligible to buy a discounted fare for 75 cents throughout the year to ride weekdays between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., the CTA said. Last school year, students took roughly 25 million rides using the discount.
Alyssa Rosas, 10, joined her mother, Rachel Roche, and 8-year-old sister, Angelina Rosas, in shopping for back-to-school clothes Monday on Ashland near 47th Street.
What was Angelina looking forward to on her upcoming first day back at Alexander Graham Elementary?
“Seeing my friends,” she said.
Contributing: Stefano Esposito