Travel Program Gives Students Newfound Independence

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Jennifer Arenas stands outside Bayside High School after taking the city bus there. "I’ve always wanted to come to school independently," she said. (Yasmeen Khan)

For the first time in her life as a student, Jennifer Arenas will not have to ride on a yellow school bus to and from school. She is 19 years old.

Arenas is on the autism spectrum. She attends a special education program at Bayside High School and is on track to graduate with a Regents Diploma in June. Like most teenagers, she yearns for independence.

"I mean, what yellow bus takes you to college?" she said. "Absolutely not."

The Department of Education's travel training program gives high school students with disabilities intensive instruction in using public transportation and interacting with the outside world independently, including making decisions about how to safely cross streets, how to resist talking to strangers and how to ask for help if lost. 

"We don't use the concept of 'safe' to smother a kid," said Peggy Groce, director of the travel training program.

Each year, the program trains about 300 students with varying disabilities. It has a waiting list of more than 100 students.

Arenas said traveling to school on mass transit will change her senior year dramatically, allowing her finally to join the yearbook club. Before, she had to be on the yellow bus at 2:30 p.m.

"I will get to shop by myself in the supermarket or in the mall, and stay after school to be in the program that I want to be in," she said. "I feel more independent and more grown up."

While many instructional programs cycle in and out of fashion, Groce's travel training program has lasting power; she helped start it more than 40 years ago. For perspective, that's 20 years ahead of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination.

WNYC spent a day with Arenas as she practiced the trip from her home in Corona, Queens, to Bayside High School. Click play above to hear the full story.

(Jennifer Arenas kept a daily journal of her training, including her own illustrations.)



Comments [4]

Gary Shulman, MS. Ed. from Brooklyn

I just wanted to sing the praises of Peggy Groce who has been advocating for the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy maximum independence for so many tireless years. She lives and breathes for the students and deserves accolades, respect and thanks!

Oct. 10 2013 05:32 PM
M. Wang from Manhattan

My adult daughter is autistic, so she qualifies for a "reduce fare" Metro Card. Then I signed up for her for "Unlimited Rides", which really helps her to learn, to not get into panic if she should get on the wrong bus or train. Learn from mistakes is the best way for her to learn and make a profound impression of what not to do the next time. She now travels by bus, subway to all 5 boroughs.

Sep. 17 2013 06:23 AM

very cool illustration!

Sep. 10 2013 10:15 AM
Vincent Chen

Good Luck to you on your travel training, Jennifer Arenas. Try not to get lost when you take a public city bus to Bayside High School. Make sure you have enough money in your Metro Card or quarters. The bus transportation can cost you $2.50 each time you ride it.

Your picture drawing looks nice to me. It is about that you missed a stop UN-purposely. You asked the bus driver to tell you what bus number takes you back there.

Sep. 10 2013 09:44 AM

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