BY EVAN DENNY
What kind of transportation do you use to get to school? Do you take a bus, walk, drive, or something else? Depending on where you’re from, you probably have a different experience with school transportation, even if you’re just a city over.
In 2017, a Bridgeport policy went into effect that states all high school students living within two miles of their school would no longer receive their bus service. The same went for elementary school students within a mile and a half of their school.
“The Bridgeport Board of Education passed the policy because they were facing budget cuts and couldn’t afford to offer the bus service to students as they had been,” said Dr. Anna Greer, director of the Master of Public Health program and an Exercise Science Professor at Sacred Heart University.
“Students are now often getting to school late. When students arrive at school late, they are held out of first period and with multiple late arrivals receive in-school suspension.”
Dr. Greer has been working with Make the Road Connecticut and received funding in the form of a $10,000 grant from The Nature Conservancy to access and address the problems with the roads and other travel-related issues.
“Make the Road Connecticut youth assessed the routes they most often use to walk to school and found that the intersections were unsafe. Most had no crossing stripes or pedestrian signals,” said Greer. “In addition, there were few buffers (e.g., grassy areas, trees) between the sidewalk and road so snow is often shoveled directly onto the sidewalks requiring students to walk in the streets.”
Make the Road Connecticut (MRCT) is a non-profit organization based in Bridgeport that builds membership with low-income and working class Latinos living in Bridgeport and Hartford. They have become a powerful voice on immigrant rights, worker rights, public schools, LGBTQ justice, and more.
MRCT, Dr. Greer, and Drew Goldsman, an urban resilience planner at The Nature Conservancy, held a series of workshops that taught the youth who participated about streetscape features that enable safe walks to school.
“The first workshop included education about what safe routes to school should look like. In the second workshop, we trained youth to use the Microscale Audit of Pedestrian Streetscapes (MAPS) tool to assess walking routes. Students then assessed the most-often used walk to school routes using MAPS,” said Greer.
The MRCT also collected over 200 questionnaires from students about their travels to school, and are using them to advocate for safer travel to and from school.
“I live in Bridgeport and have a son that will be in the Bridgeport school system in a year. I understand the parents’ safety concerns,” said Greer. “I wanted to use my public health knowledge and skills to support Make the Road Connecticut as they organize the community around this important issue.”
Students across the country have different experiences with school transportation and this recent policy isn’t uncommon.
“My school only provided a bus service to students who lived 1.5 miles away, so I never took the bus,” said junior Emma Madden. “My school didn’t provide any fares for the city buses.
“Even the kids that came from the city had to pay for the trains. When I walked, the sidewalks were mostly paved. Having grade schoolers walk home without proper sidewalks seems unsafe.”
Students in New York City even have their transportation paid for by the city, providing safer travels to school.
“As a high school student in New York City, I was provided a free metro card,” said junior Roy Colter. “Two miles can be quite the walk, especially in bad weather or through bad neighborhoods. It also puts strain on parents who might have to drive their kids to school now.”
Dr. Greer, and organizations like Make the Road Connecticut and The Nature Conservancy, have a clear direction for their initiatives.
“We are advocating for the school district to redirect funding so that more students receive free bus service. We also would like to see the Bridgeport Board of Education change their late policies so that students arriving late are not held out of first period. Being held out of first period negatively impacts students’ grades,” said Greer.