Still Waiting for the Bus

This blog originally appeared on the New York Times–Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting, and was written by KJ Dell’Antonia. Click here to see the original post.

Anthony with trainee dog Disney

Anthony R. got up at about 4:30 Tuesday morning to get to school.

“It takes me about two hours,” he told me by phone from his school at the Children’s Village in Westchester. “I take the bus, then two trains to Metro-North, then the train here.” Until the New York City school bus strike last month, a bus picked up Anthony every morning to drive him. Now it’s up to Anthony to find his own way.

It costs him $17.25 each day, round trip — nearly $100 a week that Anthony is fortunate his foster parents can help him pay up front, since although the city will reimburse travel costs for children and families affected by the bus strike, the timing of that reimbursement is unclear. “I have all my receipts,” he says confidently. His school will help him figure out what to do with them.

Anthony is 17. He lives in Queens, and is a student at the residential school at the Dobbs Ferry campus of the Children’s Village, where he lived for a time before moving in with a foster family. He’s on the basketball team. He runs cross-country. At lunch time, most days, he works training dogs for the disabled in a program run by the school. He has passed two of the four tests he’ll need to pass to earn a Regents diploma and move toward his hope of attending a four-year college — all this after time spent catching up from falling behind academically as a younger teenager. This school, he says, is the right school for him, and it’s worth it to him to get there.

But of the 47 students who usually take the bus to attend school at the Children’s Village, only Anthony has managed to get there consistently. A few others have made it in for a day or two, but all are missing weeks of instruction, and they’re missing the school that’s meant to tether them to their futures. The school serves a specific population of children with “high behavioral needs,” most of whom lived there for a short time before returning to their own families or to foster families. They are children in need of consistency, and Anthony is rare in his ability to find a way to maintain that consistency for himself.

Anthony’s is one of thousands of bus strike stories. There are children in wheelchairs who cannot travel without a wheelchair-accessible vehicle; students with severe autism who struggle with public transportation and cannot ride alone; and children like Anthony’s fellow students at the Children’s Village, who face long commutes and a complex history that doesn’t support conquering the odds to get to school.

The more school time those children miss, the harder it will be for them to return to the place where they were — and for Anthony’s teenage classmates, the more tempting it may be not to return at all.

There’s no obvious solution to the problems posed by the striking bus drivers: while the situation the students and their families are in is untenable, the $7,000 per year that the city currently spends on busing for each child served is unsustainable as well. (Yes, you read that right: $7,000 per student per year. Los Angeles spends about $3,200, Chicago about $5,000 and Miami, $1,000.)

The strike may be off the front page, but for students like Anthony, it still looms large. For his classmates and the other students who haven’t been able to find another way to get to school, the losses aren’t easily measured in dollars. And for the moment, there’s no resolution in sight — which means that, for the moment, there’s no news. There’s only the story of Anthony, getting up at 4:30 in the morning and getting himself where he needs to go. He’ll do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. He has one more year to go before he graduates, and he’s not giving up.

Unfortunately, I suspect that some of his classmates, and other students and their families across the five boroughs, are feeling as if the world has given up on them.

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