PSTA changing lives

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — One year ago MYcroSchool Pinellas partnered with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to bring U-Pass to students, to provide them with unlimited free bus rides as long as they make it to all of their classes each week.

This Monday, with students on hand, the school’s staff and PSTA board members celebrated the renewal of their partnership at the school’s campus at 840 Third Ave. S.

“A lot of us don’t always think about public transportation, about how we’re going to get to places, but it affects us all,” asserted Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA. “This partnership that we have with MYcroSchool is something we’re very, very proud of.”

Miller noted that the U-Pass not only helps get students to school to attend classes, but assists them in getting to other appointments and events.

“You can pretty much get anywhere you want to go in Pinellas County,” he said.  “To Largo, to downtown St. Pete, you can go to the Rays games, you can get to the beach, you can get to the library to study. Whatever you want to do.”

He added that he hopes PSTA will get other schools to participate in providing free transportation to students as well.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who is a PSTA board member and gave the commencement speech at the last MYcroSchool graduation ceremony, said PSTA is “thrilled” to extend the partnership with MYcroSchool Pinellas.

“Every MYcroSchool student can ride our buses for free with no additional cost to the student,” Welch stated. “We think that’s important because PSTA’s mission is connecting people with opportunities, and that’s what this is really all about.”

MYcroSchool principal Michael Warren called the partnership very important, adding that “it gives students not only the ability to attend school, which is vital to their success, but they can also use it to go to jobs, job interviews or any other various appointments that they may have during the week.”

Dr. Lars Hafner, Director of Development and Advancement at MYcroSchool, pointed out that the school became the third entity in the community to get the U-Pass.

“St. Petersburg College had done it, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg had done it and then MYcroSchool,” Hafner said. “So being a player with those other two major entities was really a positive for this school.”

The school pays for the pass for all of its students, he explained, and it gives the flexibility to the students to use the pass whenever the bus service is available, which includes the downtown trolley. As this pass is part of the school’s overall budget, he said, MYcroSchool makes payments to PSTA but does get some reimbursement from the state and local school boards.

MYcroSchool is a public charter dropout recovery high school serving 16-21 year olds. It gives opportunity for students who could become disruptive members of the community the opportunity to become productive members of the society, noted Traci Steen, MYcroSchool board chairperson. She underscored to students the benefit of their being able to use free transportation to “do all the other things you need to do for your family.”

Many students are taking full advantage of that, including Kevin Caver, who said he uses the bus to get to his little brother’s house in Largo. And when 16-year-old student Vanessa Vilchis moved here from New York last year, she said she was too busy to get a driver’s permit.

“I was very behind in school,” she explained. “I didn’t have enough credits to graduate so we had to find a different alternative, which was MYcroSchool. If it weren’t for the bus passes, I wouldn’t be able to attend MYcroSchool.”

Vilchis has to take two buses to get to school, but she said it is better than the two and a half hour walk. Plus, free bus rides opened up new doors for her.

“With the bus passes I was able to motivate myself to get a job, which I did, in Pasadena,” she said. “Getting to doctors’ appointments, I didn’t have to ask my parents. It makes you more independent. I’m really grateful for these bus passes. I think every school should give them out. It’d be a great help to everybody.”

To learn more about MYcroSchool Pinellas, please visit mycroschool.org.

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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