Aurora students want bus passes to put more college classes and internships within reach

Chantelle Lewis, a 12th grade student in Aurora, has a clear goal of what she wants to pursue as a career. She wants to be a medical lawyer.

But in the last two years, she’s had one big thing on her mind when she considers what opportunities to take and which ones to skip: transportation.

“I take the bus everywhere,” Lewis said. “Sometimes it can get expensive.”

Lewis was one of six students who asked the Aurora school board this week to pay for bus passes for high school students who take part in internships, or who take classes at the Community College of Aurora.

Free monthly bus passes would eliminate a barrier so more students can access these opportunities, they say.

“For me it would mean I would have more access,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t have any trouble getting to where I need to go and I would be able to take more classes rather than limiting myself to the ones offered at the Lowry campus.”

The Lowry campus is closer for her, and therefore cheaper and easier to get to. Without a bus pass, she estimates she spends at least $15 per week on rides to classes. Soon it could be more as she expects to start an internship at UC Health.

It may be good timing for the request, as the district is looking at changes in transportation. The district is soliciting feedback from Aurora parents in a survey about the minimum walking distances it sets for students to qualify for school transportation.

And as part of the district’s work on a new facilities master plan, officials have also said they may consider changes to transportation that could make more school options viable for more students.

Board members thanked the students for their presentation Tuesday night and said they will discuss bus passes.

The students told the board that in the spring and fall of 2019, the Donnell-Kay Foundation experimented with paying for monthly bus passes for students. The foundation paid for 87 bus passes for students doing internships, at a cost of $2,800.

Students shared stories from classmates who said that without the bus pass they would have to walk 45 minutes per day, or in another case, pay up to $70 per week for Uber rides.

Aurora district officials said this semester there are 219 students enrolled in concurrent-enrollment classes at a community college and 63 enrolled in the district’s internship program through Pickens.

Several students and the Donnell-Kay Foundation have also advocated for more affordable transportation, by appealing to Denver and to RTD. In 2018, they successfully lobbied to lower student bus fares and the cost of monthly passes. (Donnell-Kay is a financial supporter of Chalkbeat.)

Student Ariana Rodriguez said that transportation was still a problem because of limited service in her neighborhood.

“I was considering to be a part of the executive internship program, but one of the reasons I did not fully commit to that program was because of the transportation,” Rodriguez said. “In Vista Peak we don’t even have a bus route over there. If there was no bus route to the internship that I wanted to be a part of, I couldn’t even consider it.”

Kerry Smith, the coordinator of the executive internship program, said it’s the first time she heard from a student who was not participating in the program because of transportation.

Smith said she is upfront with students when they apply, and in presentations she gives at schools throughout the district, about the fact that transportation to each internship is not provided.

Still, she says, she works hard to recruit partners who will hire interns in locations near bus routes, and close to Aurora schools.

“We make every attempt to place you in an internship where you aren’t traveling for an hour,” Smith said. “Usually they figure it out.”

Jordan Stewart, another student who also spoke to the board, said that a bus pass still makes things easier.

“I didn’t have my car for the full year, so it was hard to get from Pickens to CCA to back home,” Stewart said. “For me If I had a bus pass, it would have made it a lot easier for me to want to keep doing CCA classes and things like that.”

He and other students said they were thankful for the opportunities the district is already providing.

But he added, “We’re just asking for a little more help to keep pursuing these opportunities.”