The streetlights are still on a few minutes after 6 a.m. The parking lot outside of Southeast High School is nearly empty.
Jabreanne Gilbert, 14, waits for a bus out front, sitting in the lamplight with a few other students. Southeast is a good school, she said, but Star Spencer High School is where she really wants to be.
She'll spend two hours getting to school and two hours getting home, but that's OK, she said.
“If I didn't have school,” she said, “I wouldn't have anything.”
Gilbert attends the Star Spencer Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. She's one of more than 300 freshmen attending specialty programs, called academies, across the district.
And she's one of 22 students who ride the bus to get from her home to a school across town.
But to Gilbert, attending the academy is a privilege she doesn't take lightly.
“It's tough,” Gilbert said.
“My behavior has to be perfect. My grades have to be perfect. That helps me be better. I can't get out there and have an attitude. ... I have to work hard. It's tough, but it's worth it.”
is sorted out
A new bus plan had to be created to help students like Gilbert attend specialty academies at five schools in the district, said Scott Lane, transportation director for the district.
The buses meet at 6:45 a.m. at Northeast High School, Lane said. The students switch buses and head on to their schools. In the afternoon, they meet again at Northeast and then head home.
About 90 percent of the 43,000 students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price meals. So paying for a car and gas to drive across town and back every day is out of reach for some families, Lane said.
“It's one thing to get your child to their home school,” he said. “It's quite another to get them all the way across town.”
Lane said he expects the number of students who need the commuter service to grow next year. This year, only freshmen are enrolled in the academies. Next year, those freshmen will become sophomores, and new freshmen will enroll. So as the number of academy students grows, so will the number of kids who need a bus ride across town.