WASHINGTON — D.C. advocates say violence between kids starts as they're heading to school and in class. Multiple programs are working to mentor students out of that cycle.
At Ingenuity Prep in southeast D.C., it starts with a "good morning!" from David Flythe -- Mr. Flythe to the kids.
"We make sure we get kids to and from school safe," Flythe said, as students interrupted him for a fist bump.
He's one one of about 200 Safe Passage workers, according to a spokesperson for the city.
They post up at intersections near D.C. schools to keep kids out of trouble.
The city funded the program for the first time in Fiscal Year 2022, making it possible to pay these workers.
One of Flythe's partners in preventing crime is Maria Johnson. She helps him monitor Livingston Road and 3rd Street SE every morning.
"And that’s why we out here…to make sure they safe, because there is a lot going on in our community, a lot of trauma that we can’t ignore," Johnson said.
A lot of trauma.
DC Police data shows that in 2021, out of the 247 public and charter schools listed that year, about 90% were within 1,000 feet of a gun crime.
There were 12 of these crimes alone near Ballou High School on 4th Street SE, where Mecca Bradley goes to school.
“I could just be coming to school, somebody get jumped, and then I got to go to school, think about it," Bradley said. "It was hard for me to maintain, think about my work.”
Now, she can relax a little on the way, because supervisor Tanisha Murdon's got her back.
She sees Bradley and shouts a "Good morning queen!" with a hug.
“Kids know when someone really cares about them. Kids know when you really appreciate and you love them," Murdon said. "And, they will open up, and they will be more comfortable to be able to express what they are dealing with.”
They carry what they're dealing with through the school doors.
“Their normal is hearing gunshots, hearing people angry, seeing people fighting are their norm, so we’re just trying to break that," program manager Victor Battle said.
At Kelly Miller Middle School, School Resource Officer Shamika Griffin helps to lift the load.
“We build a bond with these kids," she said.
So much so, she said, that some of the girls she's gotten to know have even asked to come to her wedding.
Some people think SROs do more harm than good for students, saying they fuel the school to prison pipeline.
The DC Council voted again to phase them out of schools earlier this year.
Griffin believes they're essential to keep in the building.
Chief Robert Contee said in September that they had about 60 SROs in DC Public Schools. Griffin thinks there should be more.
"We're here to be there for them, educate them," she said. "If the kids are letting you know what's going on, you can alleviate a lot of the stuff before it even touches the street.”
But if it does spill out to the streets, a green vested Safe Passage worker is ready to step in, like program manager Victor Battle.
“You have the credibility to say hold on, let me talk to you a second before you go do something you don’t really want to do," he said.
For many of these workers, it's a personal calling.
“I feel like I'm destined for this, because I had a long, hard life, and the kids these days, I see myself, and, I feel like I can protect them and lead them in the right direction, better than someone ever taught me," Ballou worker Shadiamond Battle said.
Johnson said it's all about the love.
“It’s like when you come in the house, and your grandma got some warm cookies for you. You know? You got to keep giving them that warmth love. It’s going to break through," she said.
Flythe said it's key to build these bonds when kids are young.
"There’s nothing we can do with them once they get older, so we try to catch them when they’re this age," he said. "So we try to instill good morals in them so once they get older, we don’t have no problems out of them.”
Parents can already see the impact.
"And that’s the reason some of these kids are willing to go to school," Dutchess Edwards said. Her son goes to Ingenuity Prep. "They get to speak to them, they get to give them a high five, so it’s really good to get that motivation right before you walk through those doors.”
Motivation, mentorship, and mediation -- all before stepping into school.
At last week's Mayor-Council breakfast, Councilmember Trayon White brought up the Safe Passage program and said the original idea was to have these workers inside schools, too.
He said at the moment, they are stationed inside a handful of buildings, but he and these workers are pushing to add them in more.
They believe that will be pivotal in helping to bridge the gap.