What could bring the Providence Superintendent, the CEO of the RI Public Transit Authority, the City Council President, School Board members, gubernatorial and mayoral candidates, and state legislators out to the home of Providence high school sophomore Natalia Rossi yesterday at 6:30 in the morning?

Answer: The Providence Student Union’s “Walk In Our Shoes” Challenge!
“Walk In Our Shoes” was the latest action in a new campaign PSU kicked off earlier this year to change Providence’s school transportation policy.

PSU took on this campaign because in Providence, high school students are not eligible to receive free bus passes to help get to class unless they live over three miles from their schools. This means that low-income families are being asked to pay thousands of dollars to access their “free” public education, and that many students have to walk up to three miles – often through rain, snow or sleet – just to get to school.

That’s why we organized the “Walk In Our Shoes” Challenge yesterday: to help our public officials understand just how much of a burden this policy is for young people.

As you can see, we gave many officials backpacks loaded with books so they could get the real experience.

PSU members invited officials from every agency involved in school transportation to put themselves in students’ shoes by joining a PSU member in her daily 2.96-mile walk to school. Her hour-long journey over ice and treacherous roads brought a lot of attention to this problem. Check out some of the coverage:

What’s more, the experience clearly had a real impact on participating officials. After the walk, the Providence Superintendent announced, “Three miles is too far.”
Providence City Councilwoman Carmen Castillo agreed, saying, “We must all work together to change this policy, which is why I will be introducing a resolution to the City Council to lower the district’s walking distance from 3 to 2 miles.”
Of course, it’s a complicated policy, and we still have a lot of work to do. (In fact, next week we will be bringing participants from “Walk In Our Shoes” back together to facilitate a discussion about how different stakeholders can find a solution to the issue collaboratively.)