Shuttle bus for kids who usually walk is improving attendance at a St. Louis school | St. Louis Public Radio

Shuttle bus for kids who usually walk is improving attendance at a St. Louis school

Mar 2, 2018

Most students at Jefferson Elementary live within a mile of the school, meaning they’re within walking distance under St. Louis Public Schools’ transportation policy.

Yet Jefferson’s principal, Kristen Taylor, said kids in the near north side Carr Square neighborhood were often late or didn’t show up at all. Attendance for the school’s roughly 225 students at the end of the first semester was nearly 20 percent below the state’s desired 90-percent level for schools.

“We were hearing from parents that they didn’t want to send their students alone to walk to school,” Taylor said. “It was difficult for parents to ensure that their student was getting to school safely.”

In January, Taylor and the Jefferson Elementary staff decided to direct some of their federal school improvement grant money to run a shuttle bus through the neighborhood every morning, for $200 a day. The new effort is showing early improvement in the school’s attendance.

“People are getting here on time,” Taylor said. “Most of the students are riding the first loop and getting here in enough time to eat breakfast.”

Attendance at Jefferson the first week of January, shortly before the shuttle started, was 71 percent. After five weeks, attendance improved to 75 percent.

The yellow school bus makes two loops, stopping on corners every few blocks to pick up students.

At one of those stops on a chilly but sunny morning last week, Samuel Williams escorted his children — one a first grader, and one a third grader — across the street to board the bus. The shuttle is more convenient than walking, especially on cold mornings, Williams said, and provides more routine.

“It’s safer for the kids that are going by themselves or don’t have parents to go with them, or just walking in groups. Now they don’t have to do that,” he said.

Audrey Walker watches the Jefferson Elementary School morning shuttle bus pull away with her two daughters Friday. The girls tell Walker they feel more responsible riding the bus as opposed to walking.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Williams’ children are among about 20 students who regularly catch the shuttle.

Further down the shuttle route, Audrey Walker saw her daughters off to school on the bus. Walker is pregnant and said doing the walk back and forth twice a day is tough on her.

But since the morning shuttle started, she said: “It’s been a lot easier for them to get to school on time.”

Walker said her daughters, who are in kindergarten and first grade, also feel more responsible riding the bus.

The shuttle bus is slated to run through the end of this school year.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney