MILWAUKEE - As Milwaukee Public Schools' leaders prepare for in-person classes five days a week come fall, they're making sure transportation goes off without a hitch. After facing challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, a new contract is providing a safe, reliable alternative for students in need.
After MPS faced transportation issues during the return to in-person learning amid the pandemic, a new partnership with HopSkipDrive is aimed at solving them.
"We match families and school districts with very highly vetted drivers that we call "Care Drivers" because they are caregivers first and drivers second," said David Solik-Fifarek, senior director for business and transportation services for MPS.
The youth rides, complete with COVID safety protocols and tracking, are meant to complement the traditional means of transportation.
"Diversification’s always a really good thing," he said.
Solik-Fifarek said this partnership is more responsive and cost-efficient.
"Providing a kind of a service for a highly mobile population, and specifically, those that might live far from school," Solik-Fifarek said. "There’s a lot of time you don’t need a school bus. There’s a lot of times where you don’t need an entire school bus to help provide transportation for students with special needs or students experiencing homelessness or in the foster care system."
The reliability will also have a positive educational outcome.
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"Knowing that you have a way to get to school and a consistent experience helps kids get to school on time ready to learn," said Solik-Fifarek. "It takes a lot of stress and anxiety out of the beginning of the day and the end of the day, and by working with some of the vulnerable population that we serve, clearly providing more equitable access to education."
All "Care Drivers" have a minimum of five years of caregiving experience and go through a 15-point certification process. MPS is piloting the program during the summer months in preparations for the upcoming school year.
While HopSkipDrive is currently working with districts, it plans to make itself available to individual families in the fall.