Jakeela Ragland wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to hop three city buses that take more than two hours to get her to school every day.
At the mercy of Augusta Public Transit, she’s lucky if she only misses first period.
Jakeela, 16, is a Richmond County student but is not provided a school bus because she was assigned to the Tubman Education Center Alternative Program this year for getting into a fight with another girl.
Students suspended from schools all across the district have to find their own way to the alternative center on Baker Avenue or miss school all together.
Jakeela said she is uncomfortable riding the city bus because of the constant fights and dangerous people she sees every day but does it because she wants to stay on track for graduation.
“Yeah, we put ourselves in this predicament, but they got to realize we’re still kids,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes, but they act like we’re murder convicts when we’re human beings. We made mistakes, but we’re still children.”
The Richmond County Board of Education is scheduled once again to discuss providing transportation for the alternative program at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
The last time the board discussed paying for alternative school buses in March, the idea was shot down before all members could take a vote.
“It’s part of the punishment,” board member Jimmy Atkins said Friday.
With students coming everywhere from McBean to west Augusta, members said it would be too costly to run one or more buses from the alternative school to various stops across the district.
However, a grant awarded to Richmond County Juvenile Court this summer might give board members some incentive to change their minds.
The state awarded the court about $250,000 in an effort to implement more community-based programs across Georgia to help diminish juvenile crime.
The grant will pay for three therapists to counsel at-risk youth and their families at home, according to court paralegal Erin Schmidt. It could help the court put mentors at community centers to meet students before and after school.
Board attorney Pete Fletcher said that partnership might be an incentive for the board to pay for buses to run from the alternative school to four or five community centers, shuttling students closer to home.
Parent Angel Sherrin hopes to see a change. She says having to drive her son 25 miles each way from McBean to the alternative school has kept her from keeping a full-time job.
The single mother of four children had to quit her waitressing job and start cleaning houses when her son was assigned to the alternative school this year in order to match his schedule.
“The gas is killing me,” she said. “There are so many parents like me out there trying to survive and yes, our kid messed up, but it’s like they’re setting them up for failure by not providing transportation. If I can’t take him, he can’t go to school.”
Principal Wayne Frazier said that is the case with many of his students. About 100 have never shown up or are regularly absent because they don’t have a ride, are incarcerated or transferred to another district.
He said students with disciplinary problems are the ones who need the most help to prevent them from dropping out of school or worse.
“The children who habitually don’t come to school are basically the same children who wind up in gangs, murdering or in jail,” Frazier said. “To me, it would just be common sense to focus on that group that don’t come to school and make sure the excuse is not transportation. That’s what we’re doing. Providing them with the excuse for not coming to school.”
Shawn Bradshaw, 15, said he is scared most mornings when he crosses Walton Way on his bike in the dark to get to school. His mother doesn’t have a car, and he said he rides his bike so he doesn’t fall behind and can return to Westside High School on time.
He said some students are not at the alternative school for serious offenses, and because some parents don’t have cars or the time to drive, many students aren’t showing up at all.
“Put your child in the same place,” he said. “If they came here, would you tell them, ‘No, you can’t ride the school bus. Walk up (Highway) 56 instead?’