Probably most families with kids in school know how hard it is to catch the school bus every time, especially if they have chosen a school further from home. Parents in northeast Denver found the traditional bus system wasn’t working. So they began pushing for a more flexible bus system with more options. The Success Express may save Denver Public Schools money and if it works, could go district wide. Here's a transcript of education reporter Jenny Brundin's report:
Reporter Jenny Brundin: Natalie Marquez is a little nervous, twisting her hair as she quizzes Denver Public Schools trainer Gina Ochoa about how her first bus ride will go.
Natalie Marquez: Doesn’t it teach you how to buckle up and everything like that?
Gina Ochoa: Some of the newer buses don’t have seat belts.
Reporter: Today, Natalie’s testing out the new bus system, the Success Express. The 13-year-old listens carefully. She’s also responsible for her younger sister getting to school and her mom doesn’t speak English. Natalie is a little confused.
Ochoa: No, because you’re going to Ford to Howell, and from here you’re going from Howell to Ford.
Natalie: Yeah, but...
Reporter: If it’s confusing at first, that’s OK. After all, the Success Express is turning the traditional yellow school bus on its head.
Nicole Portee: Previously, our transportation system was one bus, one location, one stop. If students missed it in a lot of cases they didn’t have an opportunity to get to school.
Reporter: That’s Nicole Portee who directs DPS’s transportation system. With the Success Express, she says kids have three chances to hop on the bus. That’s because it’s a fleet of color-coded buses, continuously circulating in a loop with 28 stops in Denver’s far northeast. All ages ride together – from 5 to high school. So besides the bus driver, every bus will carry another adult, making sure kids get off at the right stops, and making sure they behave.
Reporter: (Sound of bus arriving) Portee says only 10 percent of eligible students in Denver’s northeast were taking the school bus. No one is sure why but figured a more flexible system would help. So together, parents, community groups and officials like Portee developed an innovative system designed to increase flexibility and open up more schooling options.
Bus Driver: This is Success Express Red 8, eastbound. If any of you guys need help with knowing the time frame and the schedule ...
Reporter: Students and their parents have a lot of options. Like, on some days, they might want to drop their child off at a different stop on their way to work. Or one day, have their child get off at a stop near grandma’s house.
Bus Driver: Next stop, this is MLK, MLK.
Reporter: Erin Salazar is testing out the Red 8 with her 14-year old daughter Bethanne, because her daughter didn’t get into her first choice for a high school.
Erin Salazar: Which would have been right across the street in our neighborhood, and wouldn’t have required any busing...
Reporter: Salazar says it’s a shame her daughter couldn’t continue going to school with her middle school friends at an established high school. Bethanne is taking it in stride, excited by her second choice, a new high school, High Tech College, about six miles away.
Reporter: So is this whole thing going to mean you’re going to have to get up any earlier?
Bethanne: Yes, like 5!
Reporter: 5! So what time are you going to have to go to bed then?
Bethanne: Like 7:30! (laughs)
Reporter: Still, Bethanne’s mom likes that the shuttle will open up opportunities for other families to go to schools they might not otherwise be able to. Though there’s been grumbling from some parents about the length of some of the bus rides, DPS officials remind them that the alternative, the city bus, would take much longer. Lanese Thomas knows that well. She sends her daughter to George Washington High School, 15 miles away, a nearly two-hour city bus ride from her home in Green Valley.
Lanese Thomas: I really pretty much want my kids to stay at a stable school and to stay where they’re at.
Reporter: Her 13-year-old son Justin will be able to ride the shuttle this year, instead of the city bus, which cost her $35 a month. Outside of Justin’s middle school, DPS trainer Gina Ochoa quizzes them to see if they’ve got their colors and numbers down:
Thomas and Justin: Red 5!
Reporter: Mother and son answer in unison.
Thomas and Justin: Red 9! For after-school.
Reporter: That’s another positive about the program. Before, schools had to pay for bus service themselves if they wanted to offer after-school programs. So some couldn’t. Now, the afternoon shuttle runs from 2:30 to 6:30 so all schools can offer after-school activities if they wish. That’s relief for Delia Marquez, the mother of Natalie who we met in the beginning of the story.
Delia Marquez: (Speaking in Spanish)
Reporter: Last year Marquez paid a friend $25 dollars a week to take Natalie and her young sister home from school, because she’s at work. The shuttle will save money, and daughter Natalie is learning some new skills.
Natalie Marquez: It’s kind of confusing but I think I’ll get the hang of it.
Reporter: The new system is expected to save the district an estimated $650,000 a year because there are fewer buses on the road, and they’re used more efficiently. DPS officials say if the Success Express lives up to its name, it could be spread throughout the city. Jenny Brundin, Colorado Public Radio News.
[CPR Photo: Lanese Thomas and her son Justin Ross on board the Success Express]