Commuting kids: a reality for L.A. parents

When Maria Silva and her son, Samuel, selected a magnet high school around 45 minutes away from their home in Bell, they both knew the choice would mean sacrifices. The distance and unpredictable Los Angeles traffic often means early mornings, late nights and negotiating difficult crosstown commutes, all while juggling family and extracurricular school schedules.

“It is difficult,” Silva said of the daily commute. But both she and her son know those short-term pains will ultimately pay dividends because of all the opportunities available at such a school. “There are great teachers there,” Silva said of Downtown Magnets High School. Further, the school allows students to focus on a given skill or specialty, while also offering a diverse array of classes. Samuel was drawn to the school’s hands-on engineering program that provides access to real-world tools and experiences, such as a 3D printer so ideas can become reality. AP courses are easily accessible — students don’t have to be on a specific track to enroll.

This school (and others) Silva has had experiences with are uplifting places, she said, where teachers pay close attention to the personal needs of their students. The school managed a rare balance between a warm, enriching environment and rigorous academic standards that pushed students.

But, these schools are 45 minutes away. 

Geography challenges

Silva, a stay-at-home mom, is thankful to have the ability to drive her children to school every day. But, what about the parents who can’t?

Many across Los Angeles are juggling similarly tough commutes to get their children to schools that aren’t near home.

Nina Beverly, who lives in Koreatown, faces an extreme scheduling and commuting challenge for her four young children. Long waiting lists at area charter schools, Beverly said, means her children, between the ages of four and nine, attend three different schools around Los Angeles. Beverly, a social worker, faces a herculean mad-dash to pick up all of her children after she gets off work at 5:15.

“It’s very hard, it’s very stressful, it’s very trying on my family,” Beverly said. “I just do my best to get to everybody on time. It makes it very hard for a working mom such as myself to be able to do things.”

Beverly hopes to get her children into the same charter school next year, although there are no guarantees. But, she said, the sacrifice is worth it for the quality of education her children receive at their respective charter schools. She said she hopes schools will consider pushing students’ siblings to the front of the list so families can attend the same school whenever possible.

Perhaps Beverly can take some solace in Silva and her family’s experience and continued success after long commutes in the Los Angeles school system. With a full scholarship to Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Sarahi continues to thrive.

“She loves writing and loves debate, she loves to argue,” Silva said of her daughter. So far, Silva said, those passions have led to an interest in international law.

“She will make a very good lawyer,” Silva said.

—Jeremy Borden for Great Public Schools Now

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