Making Connections: Sharing Rides, Sustainability and Successful Students

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Tompkins Weekly 10-20-14

By Sophie Somerfeldt

Many of us remember that mix of feelings as fresh fall breezes and turning leaves usher in a new school year. To help make the year a successful one for students and their communities, several local partners are making new inroads around transportation, and you can play a part, too.

Transportation is something you might not think abut unless the lack of it stands between you and an appointment, a job, or an opportunity at school.

The importance of participation in school-based extra-curricular activities to students’ overall success is hard to overstate. Kids are kept engaged and safe during high-risk after-school hours. Moreover, research—and our experience—has shown that students who participate in school-based activities such as sports, drama or other co-curricular involvement, are more successful academically. They have an opportunity to reinforce school skills, connect with other successful students, and strengthen their sense of belonging to the school community.

Yet many of the very students most in need of the benefits of extra-curricular engagement face transportation barriers to participation: those who are unable to walk or bike to or from school, and whose families lack the financial and time resources to provide such transportation. School early/late bus limitations can leave some students without transportation to an activity, or with a significant walk home, often on dark streets without sidewalks.

Transportation access can have far-reaching impacts on a student’s success. For example, the Boynton School Transportation Liaison helped create an elaborate transportation plan for one student who could not otherwise participate in musical practices before and after school. Despite time-consuming transportation and rehearsals, the student’s grades immediately went up and remained higher during the period of her participation in the musical.

Later, this student landed the lead part in her new school in Newfield. A combination of transportation strategies helped bring about school engagement and success that may have eluded this young student, potentially affecting her entire life trajectory.

One solution to transportation barriers among students and others can be found all around us: other drivers. Ironically, the number of cars and drivers on the road is so high, it causes its own problems: the high costs of roads, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, and slow or stopped traffic due to congestion, which only makes matters worse. The low-cost, do-it-ourselves solution of sharing more rides helps solve both problems at once.

The School Success Transportation Coalition (SSTC) is a local working group that helps support our students and communities by working to eliminate lack of transportation as a barrier to success. This fall, we rolled out a new ridesharing initiative to help all students interested in participating in before- or after-school activities. We are distributing a Ridesharing Guide created by Way2Go of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County to and through school coaches, drama directors and other activity leaders. The Guide encourages each activity group to designate a parent/caregiver volunteer Rideshare Coordinator, offers guidance and support to that volunteer, and allow families open to sharing rides to sign up. We are already seeing more families share rides and more students free to join their peers as engaged students.

A volunteer Ridesharing Coordinator can play a pivotal role in helping families consider sharing rides with others who live nearby, or whose kids share an activity, but who they may not yet know. For support for ridesharing in any school—or any setting—contact Sophie Somerfeldt at Way2Go, at 607-272-2292 or

When a shared ride isn’t found, TCAT bus passes are also available for students who can use TCAT to get to or from a school activity. When budget cuts eliminated funding to continue last year’s ICSD successful pilot bus pass program, the SSTC stepped in to help it continue in a streamlined form. TCAT has generously donated up to $2,000 worth of youth passes for eligible students. The Fine Arts Booster club has contributed another $500 for student passes, and fundraising continues. To learn more or get involved with the SSTC, see .

Like many habits, our transportation habits can shift if we make many small tweaks over time. And precisely when many of us feel squeezed for resources and time, we can reach out to our neighbors, family and (new) friends to find more of both. By making and strengthening ties that go beyond our familiar circles, we can build the kind of community that will help us all succeed, now, and in the years to come.

Sophie Somerfeldt is Way2Go Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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