Reading community, school leaders unite for safe back-to-school

Community, school leaders unite for safe back-to-school

READING, Pa. - Students heading to and from their first day of school on Monday were greeted by school administrators, community leaders and other groups standing outside of the Reading Intermediate High School, also called the "Citadel."

The two-week effort, titled the "CHAMPS" initiative, is meant to spread positivity throughout the community, in addition to preventing any sort of crime or issues around the school, located in the 200 block of North 12th Street.

"It was just a great opportunity to just let the kids know that we're here, we believe in them, we support them... it's a way for the kids to feel really good about the first day of school," said Michael Toledo, executive director of the Hispanic Center.

Toledo is among a long list of volunteers taking part in the initiative, which as of now, is occurring during both arrival and dismissal times until Fri., Sept. 5.

"I think when you have role models that are lining the passageways for kids to get home safely and get proper encouragement, I think it's going to be really good and it's gonna curb a lot of issues," said Chief Bill Heim, Reading Police Department.

Organizers hope that the initiative will eliminate past troubles involving some of the city's youth, from violent after-school brawls caught on-camera, to in-school weapons charges.

"If we can mitigate any type of risk or anything happening, that's what we wanna do here. We wanna support the kids, support the district, support the administration. We're here to change the narrative of the school district here in the city of Reading," said Toledo, a former Reading High School student.

The initiative comes as good news to local parents with children in the school.

"That [makes] me feel comfortable, made me sure that my kid [is] gonna be going back and forth to school, gonna be safe," said Olga Cuevas.

City resident Rickie Miller is also pleased to hear about the program.

"That would be perfect. There's a lot of kids here, a lot," said Miller. "That sounds like a real good idea. I hope it does work. I hope it does."

According to Reading School District spokeswoman Kristin Boyd, the idea was pitched during a recent meeting held between school administrators and community partners.

While the effort is so far only scheduled to span over the first two weeks of school, Boyd said the district is interested in extending it beyond that timetable in some way. 

Other volunteering groups currently involved include the United Way of Berks County, Olivet Boys and Girls Club, and the Reading Fightin Phils.

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