School’s in. For many city kids (and some suburban ones as well), getting to school means taking public transportation. But these days, it’s not uncommon for children as young as fifth grade to be expected to take public transportation and navigate their way to and from school by themselves. What can you do to help them stay safe and stay the course? Discovery Mom gets some tips and advice from those in the know. (And btw, many of these tips should be considered for younger walkers as well!)
Public Transportation to and From School
Ah, for the days when our main concern about school was how our daughter would do in her classes and schoolwork. But she’s just started at a public middle school in New York, and we’re far enough away that she now has to take public transportation to and from school. She’s now the proud owner of a school-issued Metrocard. This is a big transition for all, and a big responsibility for her to take on. I’m not sure who’s more nervous and excited about it—her or me.
What I Learned on the Way To School
Making our way to and from school on day one, I was witness to a few different scenes that I hope to avoid down the line. On the subway to school we heard a boy of about 11 yelling at his mother via phone, “Mom! Stop it! I told you I’d text you later! Calm down, would you? I’m telling you, I’m fine! Just calm down!” He grumbled about her further after loosing the signal. Outside one school, I listened to a boy telling a friend he’d just sent a text to his father because he wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to take the bus, take the subway or wait for him to get home later that day. I also helped a 6th Grader who was unsure of where she needed to go to catch the B63 Bus to take her home. I showed her where the B63 bus pick-up was but it turns out she actually needed to take the B69 bus and she’d gotten the number wrong. Luckily a parent on that bus recognized she was on the wrong line, reached out to me to figure out what had happened (again lucky for her) and I helped them to get in touch with the girl’s parents and then onto to the right bus home.
What I learned from these scenarios is:
- Clearly review travel rules and etiquette with my child.
- Have a plan.
- Practice the different scenarios. Practice. Practice. Practice.
I know I can’t be the only parent with concerns about my child taking public transportation or walking a good distance to or from school by themselves for the first time. But it’s important to temper worry with some realizations—one being that generally and statistically, public transportation is a pretty safe option.
In light of that concept, here are tips to consider (and go over with your children until you’re sure they understand) when riding the subway/train/bus:
- Have your subway/train/bus pass ready to go before you get to the entrance so you don’t need to fumble around with a bag or wallet to get it out. Put it away as soon as you’ve used it.
- When waiting for a subway or train, stay in a central location that’s occupied by other riders, and try to learn where cars stop in which there is a conductor or train operator. If taking the bus, try to avoid isolated bus stops.
- Try to ride in a train as close to the train operator as possible. On the bus, try to stay close to the driver if possible.
- Take a seat if there is one available. It’s safer and will allow you to keep better track of what’s going on around you.
- If someone bothers you, move to another seat or another car, and try to notify the operator or driver. If absolutely need be, get off the train or bus and wait for another. (If it comes to that and you need help, look for someone in uniform or a mother/parent with children to help you.)
- Stay away from the edges of the subway/train platforms until the train comes to a full stop. For the bus, stand by other riders in well-lit areas, and move towards the bus as it arrives but stay on the sidewalk until entering the bus.
- Plot a route out so you and your child can both learn to make decisions based on traffic patterns. Also have a plan of what to do in case something goes wrong.
A Voice of Authority Regarding Public Transportation
Kim Wiley-Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner for Education and Outreach for the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), points out public transportation is one of the ways kids can stay safer en route. For example, a child is more likely to be hit by a vehicle than have a problem on a city bus. There’s an adult driver on the bus in the event there is an issue. City buses, she says, “…are great ways for kids to learn confidence in getting around safely.”
She explains that children from the ages of 11-years- old to 14-years-old are the most vulnerable pedestrians in the later afternoon hours, and most likely to be struck by vehicles during those times for a number of reasons. This is often the first time they have more autonomy while walking out on the streets, drivers are busy trying to get home and aren’t necessarily looking for kids on the streets at that time because they assume children have already been dismissed from school.
But Wiley-Schwartz says there are plenty of things we as parents can do to help their children stay safe. These include:
- Understanding when the bus or subway may be at their most crowded. Learning where street traffic backs up in the morning and evening and what alternatives may need to be considered.
- When walking, teaching your children to look for turning vehicles—especially in areas where drivers may not see the children.
- Doing “dry runs” in advance, at the time of day they’d actually be traveling so the transportation is running they way it would normally be running when they’ll be taking it.
- Talking to your children about potential dangers, and look for potential dangers yourself at the times you’re doing the dry runs.
- If you’re in a position where you can provide assistance for the first few weeks, going the distance and taking the trip with them and then working to ease away from them in steps that allow you to both build confidence.
- Making sure your child knows to keep their phone (if they have one) in a pocket or backpack when they’re actually walking or moving or on public transport so they’re paying attention to all the things they need to potentially navigate
- Encouraging children not to travel in larger packs of children to avoid getting too distracted.
Another Thing to Keep In Mind About a Kid’s Mind
Something else we need to really be aware of? Wiley-Schwartz says, “We know that children can’t judge how fast things are moving until they are about 14-years-old. So really encourage them if they’re walking, not to step off the curb early or mid-block. They need to understand they don’t really know how quickly a vehicle is moving towards them, and the danger there.”
Hitting the Streets
Taking my questions further to the street, I spoke with Ida (she preferred not to give her last name), a school crossing guard in Brooklyn who has been guarding the streets at Middle School 51 for the last nine years, to share her top three tips based on what she sees children doing wrong everyday. So from a crossing guard’s POV (to keep in mind when there is no crossing guard):
- Children need to actually look at the light when crossing—not just follow the people around them who could be crossing in a reckless manner.
- Children should never cross against the light and never jaywalk or cross in between cars as they often cannot be seen by car drivers—especially in a rear view mirror!
- Children should not wear headphones or earbuds while crossing the street. If they insist on wearing earbuds, only wear them in one ear. They need to hear what’s going on around them.
It seems logical that her last tip is actually something to consider for the duration of the entire trip. Learning to be more aware of surroundings allows kids to be ready to react. It’s a tip that perhaps, ahem, many adults should be more aware of as well. We’re never too old to learn, and with these tips, I’m feeling just about ready to send my child back to school—on her own!
Got your own tips to share? Please do!