Private School = Public Transportation Headache for Thermal Student

Private School = Public Transportation Headache for Thermal Student

By Aurora Saldivar
Coachella Unincorporated

As a high school student, it was not rare for me to arrive on campus at Xavier College Preparatory High School in Palm Desert in the early hours of the morning. I would head to school well before the sun rose at 5 in the morning, and leave long after it went down at night. See, I live in Thermal and getting to and from school was more complicated than you might think. Getting to school revolved around my mother’s hectic work schedule and it was a lengthy and costly 30-minute trip from my home in rural Thermal to my school in central Palm Desert. But my family and I did whatever was necessary to make it possible, knowing the sacrifices were worth the promise of a top-notch education. Sometimes you just have to make it work. And we did.

Now as a student at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, I am seeing new obstacles of getting to campus: relying on the public bus system’s few and distant stops in rural Thermal.

This obstacle is hardly unique to me. Transportation issues are a common dilemma for East Valley dwellers traveling from Point A to Point B. The vast geography of our desert was not designed to suit pedestrians and the public transportation system leaves much to be desired. For residents of the East Valley, this problem is intensified considering that much of our Eastbound territory is made up of rural communities isolated form much of civilization’s conveniences. This fall, I began school at College of the Desert and have now have integrated taking the 111 SunLine Transit Agency Line into my daily routine. With working parents, who even double up on jobs, and two younger sisters who also need to get to school each day, transportation is a big issue.

Even taking the bus requires me to get dropped off and eventually picked up from the bus stop, considering the two nearest bus stops from my house in Thermal are miles away and take almost an hour to reach on foot. The truth of the matter is that it’s much easier to catch the bus from Indio than from Thermal because there just aren’t enough transit stops in rural areas.

I don’t think I fully understood the gravity of this problem until I began high school. My family, which holds religious education in high esteem, pushed hard to be able to send me to Xavier, a private, Jesuit school located in Palm Desert, where I received financial assistance for my tuition. Our family lived in Thermal for years before I was even born. My grandfather still lives in the same old house that my father was born and raised in and after my parents married, they moved into a house right down the street. Pretty much up until then the only time we would venture out to Palm Desert was on the rare occasions we visited the mall.

It took a little over 30 minutes for me to travel the 15 miles to Xavier every morning. Now looking back, it seems that considering the financial aid package I received, our family ended up spending more on gas than what we spent on tuition. It seems so crazy, taking into account that my two younger sisters also need to be dropped off at their schools each morning. My mom said she would often spend between 80 to 100 dollars a week on gas. In my junior year, she even took up a second job at McDonald’s to help cover expenses.

The past four years I’ve learned that transportation is not to be taken for granted. Geography matters. I remember days I would have to call in sick from high school because of transportation problems and times I would be stuck in Palm Desert as a teenager until 10 o’clock in the evening because I couldn’t get a ride home. In my senior year, you could say I practically lived on campus and most of time only went home to shower and finish homework before jumping back in the car. By this time, my mother was often assigned morning shifts at McDonald’s, which meant I would sometimes arrive at school before 5:30 in the morning and on a good day probably leave around 6 p.m. Honestly, I sometimes wonder how my mother was able to manage it the past four years to allow me to graduate.

I consider myself lucky that my mother has been able to help make so many accommodations for my education. It’s really tough. A lot of people in the same situation as me aren’t as lucky. Many of them live even further out than I do. It would have far easier for me to attend Coachella Valley High School, which is located practically around the corner from my house but I wouldn’t trade my experience being able to attend the private school, Xavier, for anything. Opportunities for an education are worth fighting and striving for. I understand that better now. I understand the sacrifice and want to make the most out of college. I am now helping my sister make her transition to high school. Her hesitation at seeing how difficult the past four years have been for our family in regards to transportation has made her consider different options but I hope that come next year we’ll be taking the “Sun Bus” together to College of the Desert in Palm Desert, no matter how long it takes us to get there.

So although I may spend more hours than your average student both on campus and on the go due to transportation issues, I know it is well worth it.

* Aurora Saldivar is a College of the Desert student living in Thermal who attended Xavier College Preparatory High School in Palm Desert.

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