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Poor kids face tough challenges — even walking to school

Children cut through middle an vacant lot while walking  Luke O'Toole Elementary School West Englewood neighborhood September 4 2013.

Children cut through the middle of an vacant lot while walking to Luke O'Toole Elementary School in the West Englewood neighborhood September 4, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: November 2, 2013 6:11AM



It’s not just the guns and gangs. Poor children have endless strikes against them as they set out in life.

One of those strikes — one most of us probably never stop to think about — was highlighted in a Sunday Sun-Times story by Education Reporter Lauren FitzPatrick. She disclosed that 48 of the 53 Safe Passage routes at schools that took in children from closed schools have registered sex offenders living along them within a city block. The Sun-Times analysis showed that five routes have 10 or more, and 17 have more than five. About 2,700 sex offenders are registered in Chicago.

Parents a rung or two further up the economic ladder could deal with a situation like that by driving their kids to school, or arranging a car pool with other parents.

But in poorer neighborhoods, many kids have no choice but to walk — and it is a scarier walk.

From the moment of birth, kids in poor neighborhoods face deeper risks.

They live in an environment with more crime. In some neighborhoods, gunfire is a daily experience.

There’s more drug abuse and more alcoholism around them. There are more vacant, rundown buildings that can shelter criminals or become dangerous playgrounds. There’s more peeling, old lead paint.

There are more broken families, more bad nutrition, more substandard housing. There are more pit bulls trained as attack dogs.

On the streets, there are more poorly maintained automobiles, driven by more drivers who don’t have insurance or even a driver’s license.

When children are so burdened, it’s hard to stay whole, hard to survive let alone succeed. Everything is stacked against them.

That’s why adults in these communities have to take it up a notch. Yes, the schools have responsibility. So do the police. But this is a job that demands an entire community; it can’t be farmed out. The parents who are out there walking their kids to school are doing exactly the right thing. As Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a WLS-TV report: “If we live as adults up to our full responsibility, then our children can live up to their full potential.”

So far, there have been no incidents, for which the schools, police, Safe Passage workers and parents deserve credit.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

U.S. Census Bureau data released on Sept. 17 showed 16.1 million children were living in poverty nationwide last year.

In some Washington debates, including the current one over cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, too little attention is given to how politics in the nation’s capital affect children who already have difficult lives.

Don’t blame children. Don’t punish children.

We see how a simple walk to school is fraught with danger — we had not even thought of the sex offenders — and we are reminded that these kids really are up against it.



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