The Los Angeles-based ride-sharing company specializes in transporting children. It operates in Los Angeles County, Orange County, and the San Francisco Bay Area. PHOTO: Courtesy HopSkipDrive
Graduation season is always a bittersweet time for me. It serves as a reminder of all I’ve accomplished and how proud I am of how far I’ve come. But it’s also a reminder of how close I came to not graduating high school.
I grew up in a family that experienced homelessness. My parents, two sisters, and I were constantly moving from one shelter to another, struggling to find stability. Eventually, my sisters and I ended up in foster care. Given how much we moved around, getting to school every day was one of my biggest challenges. Transportation often prevented me from going to school.
Today, chronic absenteeism in California schools is worse than it was before the pandemic. For so many children in California, chronic absenteeism isn’t the result of not wanting to go to school, it’s simply that they can’t attend.
In California, we invest a lot of money in our school bus system, which is an essential part of the way children go to school. But the reality is that yellow buses don’t work for all children, especially children in foster care. With absenteeism on the rise, it is more important than ever that we find ways to get all children to school.
This is not for a lack of trying on the part of our representatives and school leaders. Last year, California received historic funding for transportation. Everyone agrees that school transportation is essential for children and that it is a key factor in whether or not they can be successful in school. At this time of year, we have an urgent opportunity to get students to school every day to meet attendance and graduation goals.
But there is a bill pending in the California Legislature, Senate Bill 88, that would force transportation options that serve students with special needs to meet complicated, illogical and nearly impossible requirements. If Oakland State Senator Nancy Skinner’s proposal becomes law, these vital transportation options that help fill the gaps could find it hard to exist.
When I was moved into foster care, I desperately wanted to attend my home school so I could see my sisters, who lived in a different home. But there was no school bus or public transportation that could take me there, leaving me cut off from the most important people in my life.
In the span of a year, my sisters and I moved house five times, and I attended three different schools. Every time I changed schools, some of my courses didn’t transfer. I thought I was not going to graduate. In fact, I thought about quitting altogether.
For a while, I tried to take a two-hour public bus to school with my sisters, but I couldn’t keep up with the schedule. I was falling apart mentally and falling behind in school.
Eventually, my social worker alerted me to another option called HopSkipDrive, which works with school districts and other agencies to arrange rides for students who need extra help getting to school. All changed. The service reduced the trip to just 30 minutes and allowed my sisters and I to go to school together.
The shorter commute also allowed me to go to school early or sometimes stay late so I could catch up on the credits I missed. After much hard work, I graduated with a President’s Award, a Citizenship Award, and on the Honor Roll.
I was lucky to discover HopSkipDrive, but I don’t want other children in foster care to have to go through what I went through before that. Kids already in the system can feel unloved and don’t belong, and there are so many things they have to deal with on a daily basis.
With so much instability at home, getting to school safely and consistently is one less thing to worry about.
SB 88 could make it much harder for services like this to survive, prompting California school districts and county offices of education to oppose the bill. At this time of year, and at this time for our state, we must find all the solutions to get children to school.
I hope more people hear my story and think of the thousands of students like me in California. We need to expand the options for children, not reduce them.
Georgina Rodríguez is an advocate for students in California, particularly vulnerable youth. She grew up in foster care and experienced homelessness.