By Miki Aristorenas

“Safety, safety is number one! Safety, safety is for everyone!” Instead of the daily 8 a.m. alarm, people of the Anacostia neighborhood surrounding Ketcham Elementary School woke up to these cheers on October 8th. That morning, the Ketcham Eagles, led by our spirited cheerleaders, participated in our very own Safety Walk, sponsored by FedEx and the Department of Transportation. The walk addressed a serious issue in DCPS schools today and embodied the inspirational ideals of both City Year and Ketcham.  

The safety of our scholars as they travel to and from school has been a top priority for the Ketcham community this month. For some, the perilous commute may be enough to keep at child home for days. And as we at City Year know that attendance is one of the top three contributing factors to the high school dropout crisis in the DCPS system. One less day at school is one less chance at a college education. 

But a Safety Walk and ensuing assembly was not implemented at Ketcham for the sake of increasing attendance; we aspired to promote the positive, supportive environment of our school community that continues to foster the growth of our elementary students. In the words of one of our students, a 2nd grade cheerleader at the frontline of the event, “I loved the Safety Walk because it made students feel good and happy about coming to school!” 

Our walk encouraged the children to travel in groups to combat stranger danger, and to adhere to the safety rules of the road, including crosswalk signals, and looking both ways before crossing the street. While these tips may seem simple enough, you would be surprised at how important positive reminders can be, especially for our youngest scholars. And more so, how powerful solidarity is for our children – as they start arriving around the Ketcham neighborhood, seeing fellow classmates walk safely can inspire their own safe behavior. 

As easy as it can be to isolate ourselves from “dangerous situations,” to cast them off as issues for the young and naïve, it is important for us to remember to practice what we preach. As I am reminded by the recent tragic events in relation to Hannah Graham at my beloved alma mater, the University of Virginia, safety is something we must instill in ourselves and others no matter our age. While it’s imperative we make safe decisions, we also mustn’t fall prey to living in fear of the communities in which we serve. It would be heartbreaking for graduating high school students to opt out of attending UVa out of an overarching fear of the Charlottesville community because of what happened to Hannah, as it would be heartbreaking for Ketcham Eagles to miss out on their education out of fear of their neighborhood. Safety in our own behavior, and solidarity in watching out for the safety of others is our defense against this apprehension. With this tool, we can strengthen our communities of trust and continue to light the path toward high school graduation in a positive, supportive and inspiring City Year and Ketcham way.

Miki Aristorenas, author, is a City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Ketcham Elementary School Team sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

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