Back to school — on public transit (part I)

Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center steps away from the Gold Line Pico/Aliso Station.

Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center steps away from the Gold Line Pico/Aliso Station. Photo by  waltarrrrr via Flickr.

Have you noticed all the commercials for backpacks and other school supplies?  That means the kids are heading back to school. I know there are many families in greater Los Angeles that rely on public transit to get their kids to and from school.

I also know that there are many families that never even consider it. Here’s a Google map that shows some of the many K-12 schools near Metro Rail stations – there’s a bunch, and that’s just the rail lines.

Public transit is more ingrained in the local consciousness of New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and many other areas where kids ride buses and trains with their parents from a very early age. In those cities, kids already know all the aspects of riding transit by the time it comes for them to head off to school without a parent tagging along.

If you are a family that has not yet incorporated public transit into your child’s life, I encourage you to do so. And I offer this series as a practical guide. With my youngest about to head off to college, I’ve just concluded more than a decade and a half of getting kids to and from LAUSD schools.

We never lived within walking distance of the schools my kids attended. And cycling was never a feasible option. With both parents working, we needed other options. Along the way there were carpools and yellow school buses and various forms of childcare.

As they got older, rides with older friends became part of the equation – as did public transit. We never had an extra car for the kids.

Here’s why your kid should learn to use transit.

I firmly believe that it’s part of learning about how to function in the world and the community where we live. It’s like learning to cross the street, buy groceries, do laundry, fill a prescription or the myriad other little details that kids must eventually master.

As kids get older, taking transit helps them become independent and be more flexible with their schedules. I still remember the day my oldest — a freshman in high school at the time – called to tell me he would be catching a later bus so he could get something to eat after school with his friends. This flexibility also allowed the kids to participate in after-school activities, work on a group project or spend time with a teacher if they needed a little extra help.

This all may be hard to imagine if your kids are still very small. But they will grow up and want to be independent. Despite whatever tears there may be, isn’t that what you want for them too?

In Part 2: What to consider before sending your kid to school on transit.

In Part 3: What to do now that you’ve made the decision.