This sticker in the front window of Tony Orr Sons & Daughter Barber Shop indicates that the business, on West Philadelphia Street, is a safe haven for York
This sticker in the front window of Tony Orr Sons & Daughter Barber Shop indicates that the business, on West Philadelphia Street, is a safe haven for York City School District students walking to and from school. In response to concerns ranging from bullying to fears about crime, the district has developed "Go Safe" walking routes throughout the city, designated by blue and green signs. Businesses have matching "safe haven" signs to indicate they will offer a safe place for students along the way. (ChDAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - CHRIS DUNN)

Pat McDonald stood in his York auto repair shop and recalled walking home from school one day, years ago, when some other kids were giving him trouble for some reason.

One popped him in the mouth, he remembered. He ran to a nearby grocery shop, but it had a strict no-kids policy, and he was shooed back out.

McDonald, owner of McDonald Auto Service on Roosevelt Avenue, has a sticker in the front window of his shop declaring it a "safe haven." That means kids walking to or from school in York can duck into the business if they encounter any trouble.

"They didn't have anything like that when I was a kid," McDonald said one recent morning.

His brother, Shawn McDonald, who also works at the shop, said he raised kids, so he knows about bullying and things that can go on. He hasn't really seen many issues outside the shop, he said, but if kids need to use a phone or something, "they're more than welcome to stop here."

Safe havens like the auto shop are part of the York City School District's "Go Safe" walking route. Blue-and-green signs mark the route, which roughly connects to each of the city's K-8 elementary schools as well as to William Penn Senior High School.

Michael Muldrow, the district's safety and security manager, said that during his four years with the district, concerns about students traveling to and from school have ranged from issues between individual kids to fears related to a shooting in the community or attempted child abduction.

When the district was considering its move to have elementary schools serve kindergarten to eighth grade, some parents raised concerns about the younger and older kids walking together.

Muldrow, a former York City Police officer, said he began thinking about what options he could give those concerned parents or kids.

"I know we don't have the resources to follow every child home. I know the police department doesn't have resources to be there and chaperone kids in every street, every neighborhood," he said.

The "Go Safe" route is the district's way of addressing those concerns, he said. The idea is to pool resources in order to get kids to and from school safely.

Businesses along the way provide the escape if kids feel threatened, and York City Police have been made aware of the route. Parents will be encouraged to talk to their kids about sticking to those pathways.

Muldrow said he can tell parents that he might not know about every other area, but if kids stick to those routes it will "dramatically reduce hazards your kids may face."

The district received grant money through PennDOT to develop the route. Initially, it was going to run between the district's middle schools, but since those were closed, it was expanded to reach the K-8 schools.

Devers Elementary School preschool student April Tomes runs on the sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue under the watch of her mother on the way home from school
Devers Elementary School preschool student April Tomes runs on the sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue under the watch of her mother on the way home from school recently. The York City School District has developed "Go Safe" walking routes for students heading to and from schools. Businesses will provide safe spots along the way and police have been informed of the routes, according to the district. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - CHRIS DUNN)

Police Chief Wes Kahley said officers have been made aware of the routes so they can attempt to be in those areas before and after school, though that depends upon their availability and call volume. Fifteen police cruisers also have matching "Go Safe" stickers in their window, at the district's request.

"I think it has the ability to be a good program especially once they have identified safe points along the route," Kahley said in an email. "Anything we can do to make our children feel more comfortable coming to and from school is a positive."

Still, he said, the program is in its infancy, so it's "still a work in progress."

Nam Lee, owner of Min's Market at Pershing Avenue and Lafayette Street, said he liked the idea of the safe route, so he took one of the "safe haven" stickers for his window.

Spring Grove Area High School junior Evan Himes gets his hair cut by barber Elgin Kent at Tony Orr Sons & Daughter Barber Shop in York. The shop is a
Spring Grove Area High School junior Evan Himes gets his hair cut by barber Elgin Kent at Tony Orr Sons & Daughter Barber Shop in York. The shop is a designated "safe haven" for kids who are walking to and from school in York. Kent said students are free to stop in if there's bullying or something going on, or if they just need to talk. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - CHRIS DUNN)

Situated between William Penn Senior High School and McKinley Elementary School, his store has a lot of kids going by before and after school, he said. And there tend to be a lot of muggings in the area, he said.

When kids visit the store, he tells them that they can come in if they have trouble, he said, and he'll call the cops for them.

Elgin Kent, a barber at Tony Orr & Sons and Daughter Barber Shop on West Philadelphia Street, said kids can stop in the shop if there's bullying going on or if they want to talk or get some advice.

"It's a safe place to come," he said.

Marla De Gomar, owner of Jean Joint on South George Street, said she thinks the walking route a good idea, "simply because it's the city." She sees a lot of kids going by her store.

"If somebody's bothering them or if they get themselves in a situation, I want them to have someplace to go," she said, of why she signed up as a safe haven. "We could call somebody to assist them."

It might mean calling the police or kids' parents, she said. Or it might just mean giving them a place to sit down and chill out for a second.

Muldrow said the district's next step is promoting the route with the kids themselves.

They will hear about it in school and they'll receive materials to take home, and the districts' automated phone calls will be used to follow up. The district has promotional armbands to give out.

But the idea is already gaining buzz, he said. The route was touted as parents raised concerns about the move to K-8 schools and talked about in community settings. He's told parents about it if they've called nervous about their kids' path home.

Parents will need to do their part at home, to encourage their kids to use the routes. But anyone can help.

If someone is driving and sees the "Go Safe" signs posted, they should look around, Muldrow said. If they see something happening with kids, they don't have to jump out of the car, but they could call the police.

"Stop an issue before something happens to them," he said.

Safety tips

The York City School District has prepared walking and travel safety tips for students as part of its "Go Safe" walking route. They include:

--- Pre-plan your walking route to and from school with parents, using well-traveled streets and changing it occasionally to minimize predictability

--- Check out with parents when you leave for school, check in when you get home

--- Walk or travel in groups

--- Follow the "Go Safe Walking Route" signs

--- Use main routes, not shortcuts, alleys, fields, yards or abandoned areas

--- "Look, listen, leave": avoid loud or disorderly groups, gatherings, fights, suspicious people, strangers

--- Stranger danger: Don't go with anyone you don't know, get into cars if things don't look right, and if you have a funny feeling, trust it and get away quickly

--- Tell: Don't be afraid or too proud to report any bad situation or suspicious person

Source: York City School District

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