Project Safe Start Helps Make Schools Safer

Local school officials hope a combination of ministers and extra police officers walking the halls this week will help keep the last days of class peaceful. As Houston public Radio's Jack Williams reports, a program called "Project Safe Start" is now in its 16th year of getting students off to a safe summer.

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The program was started because of a rash of fights and other violence on high school and middle school campuses, with students settling long-simmering fueds on the last day of school. This week, extra Houston Police officers will be on hand at dozens of schools in four districts along with about 300 ministers. Robert Jefferson is with Houston Ministers Against Crime.

"Ministers bring peace to any situation. We're ministers of peace and the first thing we try to do is to calm a situation down to where everybody understands what's going on. We try to assign ministers who have children in that school. It's a difference when a minister is present on a school campus."

Along with school district police, Houston Police officers will be on-hand to make sure things remain calm, both inside schools and in neighborhoods around campuses. Assistant Chief Dorothy Edwards says simply having a presence usually works.

"Our officers don't take any action unless there is a problem. Sometimes there are problems in the periphery of the school, just in the immediate surrounding areas of the schools. So we have officers who are alert and paying attention and kind of patrolling those areas just to make sure there are no problems."

Edwards says the addition of Katrina and Rita evacuee students could add a new dynamic to the program this week.

"We know that we have an increased population and so we're paying special attention because not that we're saying that those children are going to cause problems, or that anybody is going to cause problems, but whenever you have an increased population, there's cause for concern."

At Booker T. Washington High School on the city's northeast side, students will see at least two ministers walking the halls this week, along with extra police officers patrolling outside. Assistant Principal Dr. Victor Keys says he expects things to go well, but wants to make sure.

"How does that go? An ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure. We normally have a safe closing here at this school and HISD schools and surrounding schools, but we just want to ensure that all of our students leave here safely, our community is safe. This is a way to bring people from the community into the schools as well."

The Houston, Spring Branch, Fort Bend and North Forest school districts are all involved in Project Safe Start. 74 schools are participating this week.

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