When Portland Jewish Academy launched a school bus to serve families on the east side of the Willamette River, students thrived and parents sighed with relief that they could skip the commute across rush hour-clogged bridges. It’s been so well received that PJA is not only continuing the service this school year, the school is also considering adding buses to other parts of the metro area.
The current bus, with stops in Southeast and Northeast Portland, even makes a second run at 6 pm to enable children to participate in swim team or other after-school activities at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, with which PJA shares a campus.
PJA parent Dena Marshall and several other eastside families began to talk to the school’s board about offering bus service about a year ago. She says the school surveyed parents about which areas should be served by bus and what families would be willing to pay for transportation. The result has been a cooperative effort of parents, the school and the community.
“It was a real group effort,” says Dena. “Rachel Bloom (another PJA parent) was really single-minded and totally dedicated to making this happen. I took the lead from Rachel and other families and pulled the pieces together.”
Parents pay a monthly fee for the bus, and PJA is subsidizing a portion of the costs, says PJA Principal Merrill Hendin. “PJA is thrilled to be able to offer this service to our families,” says Merrill. “We hope that more families will begin using the bus, and we do intend to look at other areas of the city where there may be need for bus service. We have offered Maayan Torah and Maimonides Jewish Day School information about the bus, as well, with the hope that they, too, will be able to enjoy this wonderful service to the community.”
Dena says that while researching the idea of a bus, they talked to other private schools that have bus service. Those schools said it is very attractive to parents of prospective students. “We hope it will grow,” Dena says. “I hope it allows more families to see the commute as a nonissue.”
The school contracts with First Student to provide the bus service. The PJA/MJCC board and Jewish Federation of Greater Portland have allocated funds for the program to make it affordable for families.
To make the service feasible and to also help families with students at multiple schools, PJA asked The Renaissance School if they would like to share the service. Last year about a dozen students rode the bus to both schools, including Adriana Voss-Andraea’s daughters, Juliana, now a PJA seventh-grader, and Liel, a second-grader at the Renaissance School. Adriana says the bus service saves her about two hours of driving each day, and Liel says, “I made a new friend.” Julianna adds that she enjoys having time to talk to friends before school. Adriana also believes taking the bus is a good step for encouraging independence.
Dena’s daughter, Niomi Markel, was one of the pioneer bus students. An obvious book lover, Niomi enjoys the extra time to read and the ability to go to PJA’s library before school. This fall the fourth- grader will be joined by her sister, Leah Markel, who is starting kindergarten.
“PJA’s before- and after-school bus program has helped our children forge friendships across age and grade differences,” says Michael Patterson, onboard chaperone and PJA kindergarten aide. “I have even seen friendships grow across the school boundaries – we serve both PJA and Portland’s Renaissance School. It is a time when I see our older students really step into leadership roles, a time when our younger students look to their older friends for friendship and conversation. As the onboard chaperone, nothing could make me happier.”