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New partnership makes local bus pass available to every Tacoma Public Schools’ high school student

Tacoma Public Schools, the City of Tacoma and Pierce Transit have collaborated to provide all 7,900 Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) high school students the transportation they need to access cultural and other amenities all across Tacoma.

According to the agreement, every high school student in Tacoma will have access to an ORCA card loaded with a Pierce Transit bus pass, good for unlimited local bus rides from now until the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Following the pilot program’s first year, the partners will review its success and discuss how to make it a sustainable model for connecting more youth to cultural experiences and activities.

The effort to provide bus passes for high school students is in support of a larger initiative called the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership, a community-driven effort to provide TPS students with quality experiences during out-of-school time and reduce transportation barriers for them to access after-school programs, field trips and arts, culture, heritage and science experiences at all grade levels. In anticipation of the agreement being announced today, the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership launched after-school activity buses for some elementary schools last fall, and the plan calls for phasing in transportation for more elementary schools in future years. In the middle school arena, the school district has provided those students with after-school activity buses for the past several years.

“We are blessed to have a large number of community partners who own the afterschool space and provide extended learning opportunities to our students beyond the school day,” said School Board President Scott Heinze. “What this agreement does is throw open the doors so that over time all students can benefit from the experiences offered by our Tacoma Whole Child Partnership organizations,” Heinze said.

The city’s funding contribution comes via Tacoma Creates, the voter-approved initiative designed to increase young peoples’ access to arts, culture, heritage and/or science experiences throughout Tacoma by reducing barriers to access and expanding offerings, particularly for underserved youth. Having access to transportation via a bus pass and aligned activity buses was identified as an important step toward opening those opportunities for students.

“By addressing this essential need for safe, reliable transportation we make it easier for young people to consider the many opportunities available through Tacoma Creates,” said Tacoma Mayor and Pierce Transit Board Chair Victoria Woodards. “As Tacoma evolves and grows, the way we come together as a community to support and empower our youth today will greatly factor in our join successes tomorrow.”
 
Tacoma Public Schools had already budgeted $415,000 for the 2019-2020 school year to purchase Pierce Transit local bus passes for a portion of their high school students. Under the new agreement, Tacoma Creates funding provides an additional $100,000 in support of the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership. That funding support bridges the gap, giving every TPS high school student access to an unlimited-rides bus pass.

Pierce Transit’s contribution to the partnership involved reaching an agreement with the partners that gives students unlimited access to the Pierce Transit system by having the passes cover unlimited trips, rather than a pay-by-the-trip approach. The agency will also order and load the ORCA cards and provide the City of Tacoma and TPS with regular ridership updates.

“This partnership is a win all the way around,” said Pierce Transit CEO Sue Dreier. “It will give students independence and an opportunity to learn how to use public transportation, as well as access to the many enrichment opportunities offered now and in the future.”

Tacoma Creates will provide additional funding for programming to cultural organizations in 2020, adding to the rich assortment of activities throughout the city that kids can enjoy.

“The long-term vision of the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership is that students will have access to our city’s amazing programs at every age level and bus transportation will never be a barrier to any Tacoma Public Schools student,” said City Council Member and Pierce Transit Board Commissioner Ryan Mello, a strong proponent for this initiative, “So every student in Tacoma Public Schools will have access to community-provided extracurricular activities and the transportation to get there.”

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About the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership
The Tacoma community is committed to ensuring all young people have the skills, knowledge and attitude to achieve their dreams. Tacoma Public Schools, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Tacoma Creates and Metro Parks Tacoma, along with multiple other community partners, are working together to provide aligned, equitable, high-quality social, emotional and academic development to students. Tacoma Whole Child community partners offer Expanded Learning Opportunities during non-school hours to provide safe places for students to learn new skills, build positive relationships, engage with local cultural, arts and athletic experiences, and connect with their community.

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