CLASS BALANCING ACT

Parents chauffeur kids to far-flung campuses
Krissa Fernandes drops off her daughter Elise, 7, at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Medford on Tuesday. For the Fernandeses and other families, back to school means a complicated daily schedule of pick-ups and drop-offs to accommodate children attending different schools.Jamie Lusch

The Fernandes family's morning routine sounds like a math problem. How do two parents get three children to two different schools with similar start times?

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville family of five jumped into their Toyota RAV4 at 7:25 a.m. to first take second-grader Elise to Sacred Heart Catholic School in Medford.

Mom Krissa Fernandes accompanied the 7-year-old into her classroom as dad Scott then drove son Luke, 12, and daughter Erika, 16, to St. Mary's School, another private Catholic school in Medford.

Scott then turned around to join his wife and younger daughter for first-day orientation.

Later, the parents returned home, adding 25 miles to their SUV's odometer. Then they went to work.

For the next nine months, they will be making at least two round trips every school day and maybe three or four trips a day, depending on each child's after-school activities — soccer, football and dance — and homework groups.

But the Fernandeses, grape growers who own Serra Vineyards in Grants Pass, are not the only parents running a tyke taxi service on the side.

For many families, back to school means buying classroom supplies, packing sack lunches and gassing up the car.

Although Medford and other school districts prefer that parents live close enough to walk their children to campus or put them on a bus, conflicting school schedules, preferences and distances force some families into their cars.

Complicating drop-offs are cases in which not only are siblings spread across preschools, elementary, middle and high schools, but some attend charter or private schools far from home.

Tara Thomas Boucher of Ashland has a seventh-grader at the Siskiyou School, an eighth-grader at Ashland Middle School and an 11th-grader at St. Mary's.

Gina Lidia Keiser of Medford has one child enrolled in Logos Public Charter School, one at Hedrick Middle School and a stay-at-home toddler.

More than a GPS, parental drivers may need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of where kids need to be.

Tamra Mathias of Ashland soon will be juggling one more student in the family: herself.

She starts classes at Southern Oregon University in a few weeks, but not before getting a kindergartner and second-grader settled at Bellview Elementary, a seventh-grader at Ashland Middle School and a ninth-grader at Ashland High School.

Sometimes, parents have to charge off in different directions and their time at work is squeezed between pick-ups and drop-offs.

Ashland parents Eric Guyer and Jill Henry split driving duties.

She takes daughter Sutton, 9, to Willow Wind Community Learning Center. He takes the family car that gets the best gas mileage and packs the seats with son Sam, 11, and two high school exchange students living with them and he drives to St. Mary's.

He then starts his workday in Talent and reverses the route at the end of the day.

At St. Mary's, students arrive from as far north as Grants Pass and as far south as an hour's drive into California, says Rebecca Naumes, the school's director of admissions.

With few exceptions by request, the Medford School District assigns students to one of the 14 elementary, two middle schools or two high schools based on where they live, says Superintendent Phil Long.

Central High is open to any city resident and students at the district's three public charter schools can live outside Medford.

School start and dismissal times are staggered so bus drivers can make several runs in the morning, midday for kindergartners and afternoon.

"While we encourage families to allow school buses to transport their students when the students qualify for services, some parents choose to transport their students in personal vehicles," says Long. "If they have students at multiple grade levels at multiple sites, they generally drop their elementary students first, then the middle school students and finally the high school students."

Sarah Jones of Ashland laughs at the changing start and ending times for the four schools her children attended last year.

"Bellview would get out early and my daughter, Elise, would call and say, 'Mom, you forgot to pick me up,'" says Jones, who says late starts sometimes tripped her up, too.

"I would wake up my kids and they'd say, 'We don't have to be at school for another two hours,'" she recalls.

Tuesday was an easy day for Jones since son Ethan, a sophomore returning to Ashland High School, and Mia, an eighth-grader returning to Ashland Middle School, have their first day of school today.

"Tuesday was a warm-up day," says Jones, who only had to squire fifth-grader Elise and kindergartner Bryce to Bellview.

"As you can imagine with these varied schedules, every day is different," she says. "You really can't do anything else but laugh your way through the year."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.


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