Getting Kids to Elementary School: Bus, Bike, Walk?
Archived Q&A and Reviews
5th Grader Riding AC Transit
We are considering having our 5th Grade son ride BART from El Cerrito plaza, connect to the 51B from Center/Shattuck and end up at his ballet class at Julia Morgan (College and Derby). Both lines run very frequently and there would be no intersections to cross. My biggest concern is during the winter months he would be arriving after dark around 5:45. The latest posts on kids on AC transit were all very positive, but from over 12 years ago. Hoping some of you might have recent experiences you would be willing share.
My daughter started riding the 51B line in fifth grade (she just started 6th grade). I feel it is safe. She probably sees and hear things that I would prefer she would not, but at the same time it prepares her to be part of the larger world in a safe environment. I always tell her that the number one rule is to remember that no ''normal'' and well intentioned grownup would ever ask ANYTHING of a child that he/she does not know. So no directions, no help with puppies, nothing at all. If they need help, they should ask another grownup. Also, to go to the driver if she feels unsafe. I think overall it teaches her great lessons in independence. She does carry a cell phone. Anon
My son started taking AC Transit and BART last year (age 11/6th grade); he takes the 51B from 3rd Street to the Rockridge BART station and then takes BART to Orinda to see his grandmother. He also takes public transportation from school (walks 10 blocks to the Rockridge BART station and catches the 51B to our apartment). The one thing that has kept me sane is the CELL PHONE! He calls me when he leaves school, then when he reaches the bus stop, and then when he gets home. I think your son would be safe on BART and catching the 51B at Center and Shattuck and then getting off at the Julia Morgan Theatre. There are so many people around--safety in numbers.
If you haven't already, practice with him at least twice (first you show him everything and second you stand next to him as he makes all the decisions) and then have him do it on his own, with you on phone stand-by. Be sure to point out landmarks (e.g., after you pass the Underhill Playing field on College Avenue, you only have 2 (3?) more stops before you get off). My son is kind of spacey, and the second time he took a round-trip bus alone, he forgot to go across the street from where he got off, and he didn't double check the bus number and got on the wrong bus. Trust me, we had gone over these important nuances several times! He called me, and I had him walk up to the bus driver and explain the situation. The driver stopped and showed him where to catch the bus back. We were talking on the phone the whole time, and I went and picked him up where he was dropped off (in a not so nice area of Oakland). Needless to say, he's never made those mistakes again! Sometimes there are crazy people on the bus who talk to him, but now he knows not to sit next to people wearing pjs and mismatching slippers or super messy hair or who smell! (Try to sit next to a female college student, is my advice.) Yay for AC Transit and BART!
My daughter took BART and AC transit in late middle school. In my opinion 5th grade is too young. But that is my opinion. Things work well until they don't, and if you son does this on a regular basis, he is likely to be noticed. I do not think daylight or darkness makes a difference if someone targets a child alone.
My advice would be to post a notice at BBT and talk to the teachers and look for a ride from another parent. My daughter took class at BBT from preschool thru middle school and we were almost always able to find a car pool option. The teachers have the lists of where the students live. It may be he gets a ride from a girl's parent, but that is better than waiting on a corner in the rain after ballet during the winter. The kids are often very sweaty after their classes and that is not a good thing either.
It might be good to have BART /AC as a back up, but make an effort to connect with another parent. You can offer some gas money as taking public transport costs money too. Former BBT Mom
Driving child to high school school vs letting him take transit
Our son attends high school which is a 10 minute walk from BART (our home is 10 minute walk to BART.) One of us thinks that we should drive our son to school to help him be there on time. The other person thinks that encouraging him to get himself to school is a good way to teach responsibility. I'm guessing it's six of one and half a dozen of the other, but I would be interested in hearing pros and cons from the community. Parent of high schooler
If your only concerns are responsibility vs. making sure he's at school on time, absolutely have him take BART. Do you want him to learn to be responsible now, or later on, when he's away at college, getting his first job, etc.? The stakes only get higher. It is our job as parents to step back and let our kids take responsibility for their own lives.
This reminded me of the fact that when I was in first grade in San Francisco, my mother let me walk to the school bus stop unsupervised each morning. I picked up my friend from next door (same age, probably 6) and we walked the block and a half together. We also walked home on our own. I am 46, so this is not ancient history.
My daughter (now 22) had to take a street car to her SF public high school, and that's always iffy because they're often not on time. Then her school moved, and she had to take two buses. A good lesson on getting out the door with enough margin to make it to school on time. prepare them to leave the nest one day
I am also driving my daughter to high school. It takes us 10 minutes to drive and it would take her 30-40 to get there any other way. I regret that she isn't getting the added independence experience of getting to school on her own (as I certainly did in high school) but the fact is that her getting to sleep a half an hour longer is just more important to me, and to her performance in school. She has always needed a lot of sleep to function well, and i just think this is more important. She does have to get home on her own after school. Values teen's sleep
In my opinion a high school student is old enough to be in charge of getting himself to school on time and to bear the consequences of being late. Of course every teenager is different but I think this deprives your young person of learning to take care of himself, which is crucial at this age. You are doing him no favors by making sure he gets to school on time, that should be on him, not on you. Jane
You are in a perfect position to let your child take responsibility for getting to and from school -- a 10 minute walk from BART on both ends of the commute is very manageable. In high school, it's appropriate for a student to be responsible in this way. It takes you out of the equation and puts it all on him. If he gets there late a few times, then he'll learn what he needs to do to get there on time.
In a few years, he'll be in college and will need to manage a much more complex schedule on his own. Now is the time to help him learn how to do some things on his own. Anon
For our family, it's a trade-off between wanting our son to be on time, wanting him to be responsible, not wanting to do a lot of nagging in the morning, and not wanting to spend the time to drive him. We balance these competing desires by (a) making sure he gets up 15 minutes earlier than would be strictly necessary (this helps two ways, by improving his chances of being on time and reducing the need to nag him to speed up), by (b) nagging only a small amount (this helps keep everyone's mood better, and gives him a chance to prove he can get ready on his own), (c) being willing to drive intermittently without making a big production of it when it happens (this helps keep him on time, and not doing it too often keeps it from become expected or the default way of getting to school), and (d) being willing to say ''no'' to driving every once in a while even if it means he will be late (this keeps him from using our desire to have him be on time as a trump card to override our other desires.
So far this school year, I'd say we average driving him one day in 5, he hasn't been late yet, there have been no fights/arguments in the morning caused by nagging, and I haven't had any great frustration over either having to nag or having to drive. So the balancing act seems to work for us.
The short version: It's not all-or-nothing. Find the balance that works for you. dm
Why not try both? I give my son a ride on days my work schedule allows, and he either rides with a friend, bikes, or takes the bus on other days. See what works best for you! Berkeley mom
Please for the love a god (even though I am an atheist) let him take public transportation. I'm begging you here. I'm actually on my knees right now. Please DON'T drive him. Sean
High school is plenty old enough to be responsible for getting oneself to and from school. Our daughter started to take herself to school on transit in the 5th grade; I was in 2nd grade when I had to do the same. Perhaps your son can ride his bike to/from BART; that could halve the time that would otherwise be spent walking. In any event, this is a small step in learning to take responsibility for oneself. Preparing her chick to fly
Well, it would be a shame for it to turn into a big thing with your spouse. I think your child should walk, but you could compromise and drive him 2 to 3 days a week and let him walk the other days. I think many of us do too much for our children already. Let your kid be late and suffer the consequences now rather than at college or for the first job! experiential learner
How is your son ever going to get himself to work/college/whatever on time if he doesn't start learning how?! As long as the walking route on both ends of the BART ride are safe, I vote for starting now. - Cutting the Apron String
5 year old taking the school bus in Berkeley?
Hello, Our son started elementary school at Washington in Berkeley today. The school is a bit of a trek and we have another child who needs to be dropped off at preschool a ways a way. I am contemplating putting him on the school bus. I always thought 5 was too young but after trying to do the drop off and pick up today and parking blocks away and lugging my 3 year old in tow I think I may revisit the idea. I would love to hear any experiences good or bad you have had with the BUSD bus system. Are the little guys taken care of well enough to get them from the bus and to class and vice versa? My biggest fear is them not putting him on the right bus (or a bus) and getting him back to our home. Do the buses service multiple schools at the same time? or do they just drop off and pick up at one location? worried mom
I am right there with you-- my daughter is 5 and just started at Washington, too. The whole system is very confusing. I ended up meeting the bus driver directly, to check in with her and have my daughter meet her b/c I wasn't getting anywhere with the Transportation Dept. The driver's name (I believe) is Cecilia, and she is very nice-- she is the regular bus driver, and on all days but Wed (when the whole school lets out at 1:30p), she drives a small yellow van that doesn't feel too intimidating. I brought my daughter up on the van to show her around, to meet Cecilia, and to let the driver know my daughter would start taking the bus only after school starting the day after Labor Day. My daughter seemed fairly excited about it. I would love for my daughter to take the bus in the morning, but our stop is the first stop, so she would literally be on the bus for 1 hr b/c our pick-up time is 7:18a. SO, we declined the AM pick-up and are hoping we can find a family to carpool with. (any chance you live in North Berkeley? We are by the Rose Garden). cynth
I was in your shoes a couple years ago when my daughter started kindergarten... she was the one who really wanted to take the bus and I was apprehensive. So glad I let go and let her do it because it was such a wonderful experience and really one of the highlights of her first year at elementary school.
The kindergartners get out earlier than the bigger kids, so the bus she took was just kindergartners. It was so nice because she sat with a group of kids who live in our neighborhood and they all had fun together on the ride home (she only took the bus home from school).
The bus drivers I've met have been wonderful. Very caring and sweet with the little kids.... Keri
Both of my kids have always ridden the WA bus home from school, and if there was a later pick up time in our neighborhood I'd have them take it to school as well. The K kids get out early so they have their own bus. I get a bit sentimental when I think back to the days of meeting the K bus as the spirits within it were always riding high. When K kids ride on the larger bus, they sit in the seats up front so that the bus driver can keep an eye on them. The bus drivers don't tolerate kids getting out of their seats or fighting, and if your kid is misbehaving they'll let you know.
Your kid needs to be on the driver's list, and be sure to communicate the new plan to your K teacher the first day this is supposed to happen. The teachers do a good job of getting kids on the bus, but make sure your teacher has your cell phone number. On that note be sure to have the BUSD transportation department phone number (644-6182) in your cell phone and carry your phone with you to the bus stop as you might have to use it if the bus doesn't come. BUSD usually answers calls or responds to messages left by parents. They were helpful when I had to track down my kids because a new driver missed my stop. Berkeley parent
I want to heartily endorse having your Kindergartener take the bus. The bus is totally safe, the driver keeps good order on the bus, the kids enjoy it and it is extremely convenient for parents. We live in the hills and attend Berkeley Arts Magnet. My second grade daughter has taken the bus since Kindergarten. Call the BUSD Transportation Office to get the procedure and find out your bus stop and pickup time if you did not get something in the mail.
In the morning you put your child on the bus at your stop. If you are new, a parent can ride down in the bus with their child to see how it all works. When the kids arrive at school, an adult (teacher or driver) escorts the Kindergarteners to their yard. Coming home, four days a week Kindergarteners are on the bus without any older kids, since they get out earlier all days except Wed. A teacher brings the K kids to the bus once school lets out. You meet the bus at your stop, since the young kids must have an adult meet them.
The driver and the bus for your route should stay the same, unless there is a substitute driver, so you and your child will become familiar with the driver and which bus. Two tips: have your child know the name of his bus stop, and program the number of the Transportation Office into your cell phone and always bring your phone to the bus stop. Sometimes the bus is late (happens more coming home than going to school) so you can call and find out what is happening.
The only downsides to the bus that I can think of are that some pickup times in the morning are fairly early as the bus winds around its route picking everyone up. Also, sometimes the bus is randomly late, then you need a plan B for getting your child to school or you end up waiting a long time for you child to come home. This happens occasionally. You'll be glad your child takes the bus. Good luck! Mollie
When my son was a kindergartener at Cragmont, I was stuck waiting at his stop one day for over two hours, worried out of my mind. Got a hold of the bus department on the cell and was told by the clerk there that for some reason, children had needed to be transferred to another bus that day and my son did not transfer as he was supposed to have. Therefore, he was still on the original bus when it returned to the yard and they were transporting him to the stop as we spoke on the phone. Apparently, the driver told the kids what to do, but did no follow up to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. As my son was asleep when the transfer occurred, my feeling was that a grown-up probably should have been responsible for making sure each kid was where he or she needed to be, not a five-year-old child. However, the busing folks felt that their policies were adequate and the driver did no wrong, so later I wrote a letter to the school district, which was completely ignored, as far as I can tell from the lack of response. When my son was finally dropped off, the driver just let him off and said not one word to me; just closed the doors and drove away. Needless to say, I drove him myself from then on. Stephanie
Hi. my son started K at BAM last year. I too thought 5 was too young but he was dying to take the bus. a month or so into the year we let him take it. he loved it! the walk to the stop, feeling like a big kid, the whole shebang. a teacher meets them at the school and takes them to the kindergarten area and in the afternoon walks them to the bus. he takes the school bus nearly always now. sometimes he's mad when he sees me in the yard to pick him up! good luck! julie
My daughter's been riding the bus since she was 5, and she's 10 now, and rides with her 8 year old sister and 5 year old brother. The buses are very well managed, and in the afternoons the Kindergarteners have their own buses, since the big kids get out later. Just make sure you put a nametag (and school, and cross streets of your home address) on your son's shirt the first few days of riding, so everyone remembers who he is and where he's supposed to go. Also tell his teacher, since he/she will be responsible for putting him on the afternoon bus. The buses don't seem rowdy at all; the drivers keep good control. My kids really enjoy riding the bus! heidi
Last year we were also against our 5-year old taking the bus to school. He was at Oxford and we had 2 other kids to schlep along and it was a pain. Plus he really really wanted to take the bus so in, I think, November we let him start riding the bus there and in March we started letting him ride the bus home.
Not sure what Washington's policy is like but at Oxford a teacher meets the bus and escorts the kids to the playground. We never had a problem with him going there. We did have a couple of issues with him coming home though:
1. He didn't take the bus every day, and one day when he wasn't scheduled to be on the bus, the transportation office called me to go out to get him. It was someone else's child they were trying to give me and they didn't know who he was. (Luckily I did.)
2. The bus schedule was erratic. The earliest the bus ever got there was 1:28; the latest was after 2. So you do some waiting around which isn't fun when it is raining.
3. Once they forgot to put him on the bus home and no one at the school could tell me where he was. I can still taste the panic.
So I was pretty pleased with him taking the bus there but not so much with him taking it home.
To get him used to it, we rode with our son the first few times, then one of us drove up to meet the bus, then we just let him do it. Anon
My 5 yo is beginning bus service too. I have gathered lots of info on the subject and for us, I think the bus is the way to go. The drivers are AWESOME--I have met 3 of them. They are friendly, helpful, great with the kids and try to make the ride fun and safe. The kids love the ride--seeing their friends, big yellow bus, etc. By every possible metric, bus is the SAFEST way for a child to arrive at school--this surprised me. Kindergarteners are escorted to and from bus by an adult and released to the parent/guardian at dropoff. They are very protective of the kindergarteners. I think they only drive one school's kids at a time. Kindergarteners sit at the front near the driver and seem well cared for (I rode the bus 3 times). On the ''cons'' side, the ride is longer than if you drove your child. Although, I've been told he ride may be longer the first few weeks of school as they figure out the route, and may get shorter as they eliminate stops of families not using the bus. no longer worried
My developmentally delayed 5yo rode the BUSD bus every day of kindergarten. The system was just fine, no problems all year. It was actually a very nice time for him to transition his day. Oxford mom
Is it safe taking AC transit in middle school?
I reviewed the discussion in UC Parents Advice about kids walking about on their own, crossing the street etc. and there are some good suggestions. What about when it is ok for kids to use AC Transit? I'm interested in parents guidelines/ advice about waiting for the bus, transfers, walking from the stop to home, how old were they, etc.
I have a girl. She is too young right now, but wants and will want and deserve the freedom to travel through our community. I am trying to figure out when this will be reasonably safe for her to do. I am particularly concerned about middle school and her getting to Willard from North Berkeley safely since there are no school busses that make this run and Willard would be her designated school. Do 6th graders walk up Telegraph and across campus to get home??? Do 6th graders transfer busses in downtown Berkeley to get home?? What have you done? Anonymous
In response to riding the bus to Willard. We are also in the Willard district and live in North Berkeley within walking distance of King. (It's of course a completely gerrymandered zone having nothing to do with reality.) When my daughter entered 6th grade, no one from our area took the bus to Willard. There are no direct AC Transit routes. No one transferred downtown or walked down Telegraph. I think 10 is too young to ask kids to go through those areas and stand around downtown by themselves every day. There are carpools and you could probably contact Willard about that. (You could also contact school board members about instituting a bus for your area, since they have artificially created zones that force your child to go to a school across town.) Now that's she's 12, she does take the bus around town, and manages fine. --Anonymous
We let our son start to ride the but in the 8th grade. We had him take the bus near his school and not go near downtown Berkeley or Telegraph. I thought that 8th grade was an appropriate age but I know of several parents who have their children ride the bus at much younger ages. For us, 8th grade was just right. The summer entering high school he began taking the bus to go to activities and to visit friends. It has worked well so far and he has been responsible. Julie
You have to gauge your own child's readiness for Willard and bus travel. However, If Willard is cross town for you I would throw a fit about sending your child down Telegraph to get there, and insist that she be able to go to school in her neighborhood. If enough parents fought it, the community could get this changed. My son learned to buy pot on the avenue within weeks of starting Willard, because yes, Indeed, even with a bus pass, he preferred to walk home with his friends and wanted to be cool of course, and it began a trying period in his scholastic career to say the least. My son was a top student in elementary school and it crashed a bunch in Jr. High. Willard may have academic potential, but it offered more temptation than he was ready for. Anonymous
My daughter (now a BHS sophmore) took the #64 bus to Willard almost daily for two years without any incident. She was a 7th grader to start, however, so your experience may be slightly different.
A week or so before the start of school we took the bus together (I had her lead the way to the bus stop, etc. to make sure she knew where she was going-please don't go with her during school if you want to remain on speaking terms!). Get your child a monthly bus pass so she doesn't have to carry a pile of exact change every day. There were a group of kids who took the bus every day (some who transferred from the #8). The bus had the same driver for several months in a row, and s/he got to know the kids. Many of the other bus riders were on their way to Merritt. On the way home, she could take the same bus or one that let her off downtown (she'd walk from there, but other kids did transfer), along with a very large number of other Willard students.
Since I knew the bus schedule, I'd know about when to expect her, and she knew to call (or let me know in advance) if she wanted to go to a friend's house or stop on the way home at a store. There are lots of kids taking the bus during school hours, and it won't be a scary experience if your child is comfortable knowing where she is going. I do advise your going with her on the route once so you will know exactly what her path will be and, if necessary, discuss with her any concerns you have about it. Riding the bus to school is a good step into independence without sacrificing either your child's safety or your peace of mind. Good luck! Ellen
Although they were able to walk to school up to the 9th grade, my kids were both riding AC Transit by themselves starting in the 6th grade. They nearly always ride the 51, which I consider pretty OK. They rode it from South Berkeley to the Marina for sailing lessons in the summer, together and alone, and from South Berkeley to north shattuck Ave. for summer camp. They also were riding BART by themselves by the time they were 12 or 13, either walking or taking the bus to the station. If they ever had any problems, they didn't tell me about them! Anonymous
I want to respond to this parent's concern about allowing her daughter to ride AC Transit alone. It brought back many memories of my young life riding San Francisco public buses/streetcars in the '60's. I was 8 years old when I began riding on buses alone (mostly with friends to movies). Along the way, I encountered some bad situations: fights on buses, perverts pawing young girls (including me on one occasion when I was 15), stinky people, crazed people who get in your face. Good stuff that happened: I sold all my Girl Scout cookies on one bus ride, learned how to transfer from bus to bus and to get anywhere in SF, rode practically for free, became friends with, and learned to talk with, some really hip and nice bus drivers, learned to become savvy about where to sit to avoid trouble, became savvy about what parts of the City to avoid, became savvy about gauging the mood of the bus and when to sit close to the front of the bus near the bus driver. I would even use the buses, as a teenager, to hang out in and ride all night with friends and talk about our family problems, our lives, really intimate stuff, etc. (those were days when bus drivers didn't mind having you ride back and forth from one end of the line to the other all night). All this experience made me feel very independent and capable at a young age. From 5th grade, this was my only way to get to school every day since my mother could not or would not drive me. With this all said, I believe riding AC Transit today is not that different from the days I rode in SF during the '60's--can be dangerous, can be quite an adventure, and public transportation should be used by everyone--it's the public and egalitarian thing to do--no chauffering by parents all the time. This is a way to gauge a child's independence and ability to cope in unknown situations. I think junior high is a good time to start giving your daughter a sense of independence. Begin with small trips where you know exactly what bus your daughter's riding and the to/from of the trip. Pick-up bus schedules at the Berkeley TRIP store on Center Street (also has BART tickets). If she's comfortable taking the bus to school, let her ride every day to establish a schedule and she'll end up recognizing the same people who ride at the same time and the same drivers. Happy Riding. --jahlee
Our daughter, out of necessity, finally started taking the bus this past summer right after graduation from middle school. We needed her to get from one of her parent's houses to the other one so that she could be taken by that parent to her violin lesson. She was reluctant but she did it. When I picked her up after the lesson she said she felt so independent. I was thrilled. I'd been waiting for this but never pushed it. Now as a BHS freshman she has a bus pass and is on AC Transit 5 days a week including getting to the violin lesson on her own. (She gets picked up afterward, though.) I'm not sure any of us would have been ready for her to do this any earlier than 8th grade. It'll probably be just fine in a couple of years but 6th grade seems young. Although, when our daughter was at Willard there were lots of kids getting off and on the buses out front, so I guess it all depends on your kid and their ability to navigate. Good luck. Anonymous
I posed the question to Miriam Hawley, our elected representative to AC Transit. Her response is below. My kids, 14 and 17 both ride AC Transit. My 17 yr old son knows all the local routes and has had a monthly pass for quite a while. My daughter, now a freshman at BHS is a little more cautious, so I've let her take the lead based on her comfort level. Funny tho' how the comfort level adjusts to the need for both independence and convenience. She gets an extra 10 or 15 minutes sleep if she takes the bus (vs. walking) and is now taking the bus to school regularly. I take the bus occasionally and generally feel quite comfortable and safe. I'd say, if your daughter feels confident then she will exude that confidence and be fine. I think that the ability to take public transportation is one of the things that makes our Berkeley kids different from suburban kids---it offers a combination of freedom, independence, and street smarts that sets them apart in a positive way. Sally
Here's Miriam Hawley's response...
Thanks for your note. I've asked AC staff for some crime-on-bus statistics. In fact, just this morning I spoke to Bob Hughes, our safety guy, to nudge him into action. I forwarded your note to him for his comments. He may get back to you directly with quotable information. Meanwhile, I can assure you that crime is rare on buses. When something does happen, it's almost invariably the bus driver who gets attacked or threatened.
My own kids rode the bus from the time they were in about 5th grade, and I can't recall a single incident. Both they and I felt it was a big step toward their independence, and they loved the fact that they could get around without having to wait for someone to drive them. Our Deputy General Manager who lives in Berkeley says his children, now 12 and 15, ride AC Transit buses regularly and have been bus riders since the upper elementary school grades, often transferring downtown from one bus to another. He recalls no incidents on buses. Once his son felt harassed by someone at a bus stop, but this was at Center and Shattuck where the crowds would have been a protection had he needed it. But it turned out to be more annoying than threatening. Miriam