Riding Solo: What age should a child take transit to school in NYC?

As you consider charter middle school options for your child, you want to find a healthy, supportive environment where they will grow and thrive. That might mean applying to a school outside your immediate neighborhood, or considering possibilities at a further distance. 

Of course, there are practical considerations as you work through these options. How far do you want your child to travel each day? Will it fit your schedule? And then, perhaps the most important question:

will my child be safe if they take public transit on their own?  

It can be hard to know exactly when your child is ready to independently travel to school. It can be hard to know when you are ready, for that matter! And that’s no small thing. As you process what feels right for your family, consider these benefits and tips for preparing your child for their commute. 

Benefits of independent travel to school

Over the next few years, your middle schooler is going to experience tremendous growth — physically, emotionally, socially, and academically. In this season of amazing transformation, you want your child to be supported and challenged as they grow and gain independence. Have you considered some of the life skills they will exercise when taking public transportation on their own?

In NYC, middle schoolers who travel to school alone:

  • Experience independence
  • Gain responsibility as they learn to keep time and schedules
  • Understand and respect public safety rules and regulations
  • Get physical exercise as they walk to or from the bus or train 
  • Engage with their community in a way that is unique from riding in a car 

All of these things contribute to the development of responsible citizens who respect the world around them. 

How to prepare your child to take public transportation on their own

If you’ve decided to apply to a school that will require your child to travel independently, there are some ways you can help them prepare for their commute. These steps will not only help if there is an emergency situation, but will also give you confidence in your child’s ability to arrive safely and on time for school. 

Plan Ahead

Did you know that NYC’s transit system includes more than 472 subway stations and 234 local bus routes? It’s the largest public transportation agency in North America — the subway alone boasts a daily ridership of approximately 5.5 million. Through it, your child has many options to access their school. 

Take time to look at a map together and become familiar with the multiple routes that connect your child with their school. Let them decide the route they’d like to take and then try it out together. It’s also a good practice for your child to memorize and carry their home address and school address, as well as emergency contact information. 

Christian, a sixth grade scholar at St HOPE Leadership Academy who takes an MTA  bus to and from school, shares, “I learned how to get to school by myself because my dad has taught me how to get around the city by teaching me the different bus and train routes.”

Work towards a goal.

Ask your child how they are feeling about traveling to school on their own and if they are excited about the idea. If they are nervous or experiencing some hesitancy, develop a plan that will let them travel independently at smaller intervals. Start by traveling with your child, but letting them take the lead. As you both become more comfortable with the route, gradually travel a shorter distance with them — getting off at an earlier stop, or letting them switch buses on their own. Soon, they’ll be confidently taking the entire route solo. 

Find a travel partner.

It’s not uncommon for schoolmates to live near one another and commute to school together. In fact, approximately 90 percent of scholars at St HOPE Leadership Academy travel to school by public transit. Many scholars will meet their peers at a designated station or bus stop and ride to school together, where they are met with crossing guards who help scholars exit the train and safely reach campus. 

Trae Shawn, a sixth grade scholar at St HOPE Leadership Academy, has found a routine that works well for him. “Public transportation so far has been a pretty good experience,” he says. “Sometimes in the morning, I wait for my friends so we can take the train together.  When I get off the train and walk home from my train stop, I’ll listen to music sometimes on my walk home — but the volume is quiet enough that I can still hear my surroundings. Music makes me feel calm.”

How to know when your child is ready

There’s no formula to know exactly when your child is ready to take public transit on their own. However, there are some indicators for when the time is right. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is my child mature enough to understand and follow basic safety rules? If your child does not understand the importance of staying away from strangers, or when and where to find a police officer or official to help with a problem, they should not travel solo on the bus or train. Take some time to review together these safe travel tips published by the NYC Department of Education. 
  • Is my child familiar with protocols? Entering and exiting the train, using a metrocard, and understanding mask requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are all necessary protocols your child should know before using public transportation on their own. 
  • Is my child familiar with alternative routes in case there is a problem? If there is an unexpected circumstance, you want to know that your child will be able to find a solution and not be stranded on their journey. Take time to role play what they should do if their bus breaks down, or they miss their train. 

Teaching Life Skills for Tomorrow 

As your child enters middle school, the environment they are in will have a tremendous impact as they develop their strengths and learn new skills. At St HOPE Leadership Academy, we see middle schoolers as being more than a test score and help them learn the academic and life lessons they need for high school, college, and beyond. Apply now and see your child grow to reach their full potential.

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