Activity buses offer ride home for students staying late

December 4, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Angelique Cilliers, Simona Snapkauskaite and Joe McLendon (from left) climb aboard an extended day activity bus at Pine Lake Middle School. By Lillian O’Rorke

Monday through Thursday at about 4 p.m., long after class has let out, 10 yellow school buses chug along area roads, helping middle school students with extracurricular activities get home.

“This is a bad time of the day for parents to pick their kids up,” said Don Crook, who drives one of the two late buses at Pine Lake Middle School. “For all the kids that stay after, whether it’s for chess club or track … the activities buses provide them a means to get back to home or at least close to it.”

Extended Day Activity buses, which are better known unofficially as activity buses, operate at all five of the Issaquah School District’s middle schools.

Director of Transportation Jo Porter estimates that about 250 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders ride the buses. They stay after school, she said, for sports, clubs or just extra study time in the library. And of course, as activities change with the seasons, so do ridership numbers.

“So, if they have a lot of sports going or a lot of other extracurricular activities, then we usually get pretty full buses taking them home,” Crook said.

Unlike regular buses, which drop students off at their door, these 10 buses more closely resemble King County Metro Transit transportation, offering riders anywhere from two to nine neighborhood stops. Crook explained that he has an average route with four stops, dropping students at places like the Renaissance Ridge and Wesley Park communities. The whole loop, he said, takes about 20 minutes.

If you go

Specific activity bus routes can be found online at www.issaquah.wednet.edu. Under the ‘Family Resources’ tab click on ‘Transportation.’ From the transportation menu choose ‘Find your school and bus route.’ Activity bus routes are located at the bottom of the page.

“They are very quick. The more stops you make, the more fuel you use. The longer the route, the more driver hours you are paying,” Porter said.

The price tag for the activity buses is $92,000 a year. The district has more than 600 regular routes, Porter said, so if those buses operated door-to-door, then that cost would be much higher.

The district began offering the service more than two decades ago when PTA parents demanded Issaquah provide transportation for those that do after-school activities.

It used to look much different, with activity buses serving high school students, too, and dropping riders at as many as 40 stops along one route. Over the years things changed, like switching to middle schools only, as not enough older students used the buses to justify them at high schools.

In the 2009-10 school year, the activity buses scaled back to their current concise routes as part of cost-cutting measures.

“I understood that it had to be held back, but I advocated for keeping it when the budget ax fell,” Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said. “I think the user rate speaks for itself. If it wasn’t critical, then people wouldn’t be using it. If it’s well-used, then it is money well-spent.”

Thiele explained that he thinks the buses’ importance lies not only in giving some independence to older children who don’t yet have driver’s licenses, but also in allowing them to take advantage of opportunities.

For example, he said, the Issaquah Schools Foundation funds robotics clubs and open after-school libraries at all five schools. The PTSA pays for after-school help sessions where students can stay behind to get extra help on subjects like math or science. Or, he added, students can stay after school to work on a group project.

“It not only benefits clubs and activities,” Thiele said, “but it can benefit the classroom as well.”

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