By Bettina Norton

A for Arizona Manager of Grants Compliance and Marketing

Last year, A for Arizona administered the first-in-the-nation Arizona Transportation Modernization Grant program funded by the State of Arizona. It was clear then and remains clear now that the traditional mode for transporting students no longer meet the needs of every family. This innovative grant opportunity provided public school leaders, local governments, and community organizations an opportunity to seed new transportation programs to ensure more students have access to high-quality schools. Six months later, we are already seeing incredible impacts across the state.

The Boys & Girls Club of Bisbee serves children and families that have limited access to after-school, summer, and community resources due to the lack of transportation in this rural region of southeastern Arizona. Some students also struggle to get to school as the surrounding schools try to manage unreliable fleets and a lack of bus drivers. By coordinating with Bisbee Unified School District #2, Naco School District No. 23, and the local Montessori school, the Club is ensuring students are getting to school, receiving after school support, and have access to services such as the food pantry. The Boys & Girls Club of Bisbee is seeing the growth of their organization and this intentional transit collaboration with the local schools has allowed them to become a go-to resource center serving kids all around the rural community.

Chinle Unified School District (CUSD) is excited to be part of leading the charge to bring electric technology to transportation in their tribal community. Before this grant opportunity, CUSD’s capacity for student transportation left 833 students without a seat on the bus and did little to address the needs of families outside the bus route areas. Unimproved roads can leave buses – and therefore children – stranded in muddy ditches. Technology related upgrades were needed throughout their fleet to improve student safety and reliable transportation to and from school. Their new transit program includes transportation staff recruitment and retention programs, as well as converting some of their fleet to modern electric vehicles that will save them hundreds of thousands in gas and maintenance costs.

The City of Chandler is leading local government innovation by creating a unique micro-transit solution so individual students stuck on campus at night or lacking family transportation to enrichment, tutoring, clubs, and their school day can get there. A city van program will operate from 6 am to 9 pm and can be extended to individual or small groups of students in need of pick up or drop off to learn, get home, or participate in enrichment safely. This program has been studied for a long time and the City is excited to see how their student-focused micro routes fit in with other services and if successful, how to be replicated.

Tolleson Union High School District (TUHSD) is providing a new opportunity for their families and another avenue of support to provide efficient transit routes to students. Taking stress off parents, and giving them the support they need, TUHSD is expanding transit options by bringing in a proven and safe third-party partner Hop Skip Drive to scale ridesharing for K-12 students that need a safe, customized solution as well as creating pick up and drop off hubs for open enrollment students coming from outside the district. Distance is a key barrier to accessing any school but particularly one that is out of a child’s neighborhood. By bringing thoughtful mass and micro transit solutions to the district’s portfolio, TUHSD can serve more kids, help them access the education that inspires them, and provide tools for students who are homeless or in foster care.

These are just a few of the many exciting transportation models underway across the Grand Canyon State. The traditional models for transporting students no longer meet the needs of families. We are grateful for the opportunity to support public schools, organizations, and local governments that are focusing on innovative solutions to eliminate access barriers and provide high-quality options for student and families.