Monday, June 14, 2010
Thousands of San Diego City students rely on their parents OR the yellow school bus to get to class. But other students are not so fortunate. They say just finding a way to get to school is a biggest challenge. However, one high school principal is trying to change that.
SAN DIEGO Thousands of San Diego city students rely on their parents or the yellow school bus to get to class. But other students are not so fortunate. They say just finding a way to get to school is the biggest challenge. However, one high school principal is trying to change that.
It's 6:30 in morning. The air is cool. The sky is gray. Eighteen-year-old Jose Osuna throws on his backpack and heads to school.
The football player is wearing jeans and a blue-hooded sweatshirt.
His walk begins near a housing project in Barrio Logan, located south of downtown San Diego.
“I live in these apartments right here,” Osuna says as he points to the housing project. “Most people think it's the ghetto. It's a place that I call home.”
Barrio Logan is a working-class community near the Coronado bridge. Most teenagers who live here go to San Diego High School in downtown San Diego.
Osuna used to walk to campus every day but it started getting a little too dangerous. There have been several times in which Osuna has been confronted by homeless people.
“They’ve said racial things to me, but I'm just trying to get to school. I'm not trying to have a bad day.”
Osuna doesn't own a bike or car. His only option is to take the San Diego Trolley or bus. But he can't afford a pass.
And Osuna is not alone. Hundreds of students at San Diego High School do not have a cheap, safe and reliable way to get to school. The problem is so bad that many teens are chronically tardy. Others skip school all together.
San Diego High School is surrounded by high-rises, freeways and homeless people.
The campus itself is divided into six smaller schools. Conseulo Manriquez is principal of the School of the Arts.
This is Manriquez’s first year as principal. The first thing she noticed was students weren't showing up for school. Others were coming to her with scary stories. Manriquez recalls how one of her students was mugged while walking to school.
“This was six blocks from here,” Manriquez says. “I'm enraged that my students have to face this every single day.”
Manriquez decided to establish a bus pass scholarship for about 80 of her students. To apply, students had to write an essay. Manriquez wasn't sure what to expect. A few weeks later, she was flooded with applications.
Each story had a common theme. The majority of her students come from low-income families and could not afford a monthly transit pass. Transit passes cost students $36 every month. A bus pass scholarship for half a year saves them more than $200.
San Diego Unified School District provides free busing only to certain groups of students. Those students are enrolled in special district or federal programs. Others are in special education and magnet schools.
Daniel Gilbreth is transportation manager for for the school district. He says the district buses about 18,000 students every day. There are 133,000 students enrolled in the district. Gilbreth says San Diego Unified would be swimming in red ink if every child got a free ride on the yellow school bus.
“It would just be too costly,” Gilbreth said. “It would double or triple the number of buses we use.”
But Manriquez believes the district's priorities are misplaced. She says it's even more costly to deny a child transportation because it contributes to low-attendance and high dropout rates.
She says she will continue to fight for her students. “I am responsible for the education of these students. I at least have to try.”
Manriquez worries about next school year. The public donations that fund her bus pass scholarships have all been used up.