Putting a Face to the Number of Long-Distance Students
When the Palisades Charter High School Board of Trustees voted to increase the bus fees for the approximate 775 students that pay them, and an interactive map by the Palisadian-Post suggested students travel over 100 miles a day to get to school, the conversation remained one of numbers.
An investigation by the Post set out to identify some of these students, and hear a firsthand account as to why they were making the trek, passing local schools on the way.
It also raises bigger questions about the cost of opportunity across Los Angeles.
Edward S. is a junior at Pali High who takes three buses and one train to get to Pali High from his Long Beach home. After his family relocated to Long Beach from the LA area, he says that such a drastic change in school districts would not be easy.
His assigned high school sits only four miles away from his house, but instead he chooses to commute close to 65 miles per day as local schools do not offer many of the clubs he is a part of at Pali High, like the Military Club or Pali Radio Club.
He is also a proud member of the school choir.
Edward said all but one of his teachers are unaware of his daunting commute, admitting he sometimes falls asleep in class.
“It’s complicated. I really don’t have a close relationship with my teachers except for my choir teacher. He’s very involved in everything I do,” he said. When asked how he thinks they would react upon finding out he travels close to 65 miles a day in public transportation, Edward said, “I feel like they’d be a lot more understanding. I still try to keep my grades up as high as I possibly can but I feel like it holds me back from maybe taking [AP classes] and stuff because I just wouldn’t have the time.”
In addition to playing travel basketball, he is still able to get his homework done and is currently trying to raise his already respectable GPA.
“It’s kind of hard to concentrate on a bus or train. Simple work, I can do on the bus and train but I feel like the level of studying for AP would require a lot more focus and concentration that Pali kids who live across the street can definitely get,” he said.
Several zip codes north, Shelbe Z. travels 40 miles a day on Pali High’s bus route from Gardena and agrees that it’s hard to get any work done on her two-hour bus ride home. She was unaware of the recent price hike in bus fees and feels that some families will suffer from it.
“Especially because the school buses are bad. The buses in the morning will come late. The bus drivers are rude,” said Shelbe, who sometimes takes an Uber home if she has to stay late. “I don’t know if I like [the new bus company, American Transportation Systems] or not, half of the buses have like metro seats inside. It’s not even a school bus and they have like pink and blue buses.”
Like Edward, Shelbe chooses to travel to Pali High to take advantage of programs not found at her local school. She is a member of the Black Student Union, a peer mediator, sings in the choir, is on the cheerleading team and works as the basketball manager- all while keeping good grades and enrolled in an AP language class.
Rain I. transferred from a high school in Thousand Oaks after constantly being singled out for being African-American and hearing from her mother that Pali High offered a much more diverse environment. She commutes 40 miles per day.
But not everyone coming from outside the network of Pali High is taking advantage of the school or enrolled in AP classes.
Frank L., a freshman at Pali, travels just over 100 miles round trip from his house in Fillmore with his mother who works in Malibu. Frank says it can take over three hours by car to get home with traffic, and spends his time on his phone or sleeping in the meantime, waiting to get home to get started on homework.
“I asked my mom if I could switch schools but she said no because I’m already enrolled in this school and it would be hard for her to pick up my two other siblings and then me,” he said, noting that the biggest difference would be his ability to walk to school, but that his grades might stay the same even though he is currently struggling to keep them up and enrolled in an individualized education program, or IEP.
Resource specialists spend time with many students who require additional time and help with their school work, but it is unclear if they are simply making up for lost time spent commuting to and from school.
Pali High administrators have taken a sharp focus on inclusivity and improving their diversity, recently hiring a Campus Unification Director in hopes of creating a welcoming environment for all.
But an employee at Pali High who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and who has worked at the school for nearly a decade, painted a different picture of the school’s accommodations for traveling students saying the odds have been stacked against them, making it harder for them to succeed.
“They don’t accommodate them, that’s why they are going up on bus fares. If you’ve ever been to a board meeting, they dont look like you and I,” said the Pali High employee. “They’re not really thinking about the minority kids coming to school, they’re more or less thinking about their kids in their neighborhood.”
While student’s reasons for traveling differ, these students share their destination and decision to pass on their local school, shining a spotlight on both the diversity at Pali High and a struggling education system throughout Los Angeles.