Many Chicago magnet school students spend hours commuting to class

Monday, June 20, 2005

CHICAGO -- Tariq Weaver has spent the last ten months getting up at dawn so he could get a better education.

The 14-year-old, who just finished his freshman year, lives in Rogers Park, about 30 miles away from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences he attends on the city's far southwest side. All year he has gotten up at 4 a.m. to catch the first of three buses and two elevated trains on a commute that took two hours each way.

"I'm just looking forward to summer," Weaver said. "I actually like the school. I don't like the commute, but I can deal with it."

Students who travel long distances say their neighborhood high schools aren't options because of violence and weak academic programs. They say they're lured to the city's magnet and selective enrollment schools because of the unique course choices.

Chicago Public Schools officials said they do not keep track of students' commutes, but magnet and selective enrollment school principals said many of their students travel long distances.

The teenagers spend time on the trains and buses doing homework or gossiping with other students who also have to travel.

Alexandra Mead, a 16-year-old sophomore who lives on the city's South Side, said her 20-mile trip to Northside College Prep involved a car ride, two trains and a Chicago Transit Authority bus.

But the aspiring lawyer said her commute -- about three-and-a-half hours a day -- was worth the effort.

"I don't really think there is a comparable school in the city of Chicago," she said.

Fifteen-year-old Steven Walsh said the one hour, 45-minute commute he made to Whitney Young High School with friends Ryan Garza and Linda Carreon was the best part of his day. He said the "morning gang" made the bus and train trips enjoyable.

Except in the winter. Carreon said she often slipped and fell on icy ground while running for the train.

"That is when kids get depressed," said Walsh, who received two Saturday detentions this year for being late.

Garza used to play baseball but had to drop out because he didn't get home until about 8 or 9 p.m., and then had homework.

But Walsh said the experience has made him more independent.

"I was so scared of getting lost downtown," he said.

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