PHOENIX — Parents across the state fight to send their children to the Arizona Autism Charter School, but there's one thing missing, and that's transportation for students. And spokesperson Dan McCarty says the daily parent drop-off line can be a challenge, to say the least.
"The parent drop-off situation right now is brutal because we have lines, and we're trying to get students in and out," McCarty said.
But relief is on the way. The school, located in central Phoenix, was awarded a $2 million transportation grant from "A for Arizona."
Founder and CEO, Emily Anne Gullickson, says she is impressed with what they saw from Arizona Autism Charter.
"What's really amazing about Arizona Autism is that they are so intentional about everything that they do, putting the child first," Gullickson said.
"They came with a really robust proposal saying that a traditional large 80 passenger bus does not work for our unique student population. They have amazing staff that are highly trained with the student population and they wanted to think outside the box," she said. "For the committee, it was a no-brainer."
Both parents and McCarty were thrilled upon receiving the news that they got the grant, but now he says comes the pressure to produce.
"It's a couple of emotions," he said. "One is total excitement that we can finally do something here! Then it's the anxiety of wow, we have to do this now!" McCarty said.
The plan is to use the money to purchase 13 vehicles outfitted with the latest technology to assist students with autism.
The school is partnering with "Kid Commute," a transportation company whose two-person driver teams are specially trained to handle any outbursts, or expressive behavior along the route.
"They don't panic," McCarty said.
And while more than 300 students currently attend Arizona Autism, the program will transport around 130 students to start.
Parents will drop off their children at a nearby pick-up location, and Kid Commute will drive them safely to school.
A for Arizona hopes this new program will serve as a model for other schools in a similar situation.
“Ideally other public schools around the state and potentially even the country can look to them for this viable micro-transit solution," Gullickson said.
"One of the things that's really inspiring about Arizona Autism is that families have literally moved across the country to try to get into that school," she added.
"They have resettled here in Phoenix because of the academic, but also the social and emotional support. They have a whole wraparound approach that ‘we value your child and we're going to empower them to have the best education possible,'" Gullickson said.
“It was a really smart approach to a real problem that they had been facing for many years.”
"We will stay in touch with them over the next two years of the grant cycle and learn best practices from them, and any hurdles they face, and help them troubleshoot," she said.
McCarty says Arizona Autism Charter will welcome the continued support.
"It's a huge program with a huge benefit so we're excited and determined to make this the best program possible," he said.
They hope to launch the new program at the start of the next school year.