Transportation for children with IEPs: A parent's story

When Gabriel and Andrea Dima-Smith discovered their daughter, MyKayla, had a learning disability, they worked with their daughter’s school to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to help ensure she would receive the educational support and services she would need to be successful in school.

The IEP brought a lot of change to MyKayla’s curriculum and schedule, which ultimately meant she was not able to ride to school on the bus with her friends. And as working parents, it was challenging for Gabriel and Andrea to get her to and from school every day themselves. That’s when the family turned to HopSkipDrive. 

For Gabriel and Andrea, HopSkipDrive’s multilayered safety technology and processes, as well as the dedication and thoughtful attention of CareDrivers, made HopSkipDrive an ideal option. For MyKayla, riding with HopSkipDrive gave her a feeling of autonomy — and created a sense of excitement about going to school at a pivotal time.

We recently talked to Gabriel about his family’s experience using HopSkipDrive to fulfill his daughter’s IEP transportation needs. Read on to hear what he had to say.

Can you talk about your experience as a parent having a child with an IEP? 

When my wife and I first identified that our daughter had a learning disability, we didn’t really know how to approach it. We had both done very well academically, and I guess we made the assumption that our child would also. 

One of the first things to know about IEPs is they are unique and different depending on the student. My daughter had a challenge working in classrooms that are full-size, so she needed to be in a classroom that had a 15-student maximum. So generally, that meant she couldn’t go into just any class.

And that affected her schedule?

Yes, and that’s why we ended up using HopSkipDrive. She couldn’t start school until second period, because that’s when the first class was available that met her IEP parameters. That meant her school day started around 10:45. At that point, all the school buses would have already done their routes, and by the time they would have finished dropping off all the kids and then turned around to go get my daughter — if that was even available as an option — she would have been extremely late to school. 

So how did you handle that?

My daughter was in middle school at the time, and we briefly thought about using a platform  like Uber. But my wife was like, “Absolutely not! Each driver is different. We have no background on who the drivers are. How will we know if they arrive? What are the safety parameters?”

So we did a little more research online, and we found HopSkipDrive as an option. We combed through the website and watched some of your videos about CareDrivers. And we thought, this model is a lot more safe.

When and how did you get started with HopSkipDrive?

In 2019, we did a trial ride, and it went really great. We liked how there was a code word for my daughter for safety. She was able to decide on the code word herself, which was exciting for her.

And how did things go from there?

Once we got started, there were two or three kind of regular CareDrivers. Our kid became very attached to them. They would talk with her about all kinds of exciting things — I think one of them even helped her decide what she wanted to wear to winter formal.

So we experienced a really personal touch beyond what she would have had with any other experience getting to school. And it was a lot safer.

Did anything in particular stand out to you about the experience with HopSkipDrive?

The CareDrivers really understood the kind of transportation requirements my daughter had. It was clear they are trained to follow the right protocols and proper campus drop-off procedures, which was a big deal to me. Also, If anything was going on, we’d get notifications. If there was traffic or delays or anything, we’d know. 

How did HopSkipDrive help you?

During that phase, my wife and I were both working full-time, crazy hours. And HopSkipDrive was just such a great option for us. For my wife, not being able to be in the car with my daughter and be the one driving her was a big deal. Being able to communicate with the CareDriver gave her a kind of connection. 

Did you have any interaction with CareDrivers yourself?

Yes, I engaged with them and they were very friendly. You could tell they were grandparents or parents themselves. I think one had a background in education — she had worked with preschoolers but the private preschool she worked at had gone out of business, and she was retiring. So she decided to drive with HopSkipDrive part-time. I remember her saying : “I get that connection with kids, and then I can go back home after drop-off to my own family.” This made us comfortable because they seemed like people in our community, just like us.

Do you think HopSkipDrive helped your daughter with some of the transitions she had to make with her IEP?

Yes. She was going through this period thinking her whole curriculum was changing because she wasn’t learning well, or performing well, based on what her teachers were saying. There is definitely a psychological impact with that. And then pair that with no longer being able to be on the school bus with her friends. This was probably the greater impact. Then also mom and dad can’t get her to school at this time. So, all three of those put together definitely gave her a lot of anxiety. 

I know during her first two or three HopSkipDrive rides, she was very quiet. She was happy but I think with the character, the personality and the process that HopSkipDrive provided each time, she became more and more comfortable. Looking back now, it seems like at times she would talk to the CareDriver more than she would talk to me!

She went from feeling bad about her IEP to being excited to go to school with the CareDriver. And I think that is what stuck out to me more than anything, more than just the services: her overall mood. She seemed happier, and she didn’t have a problem that we weren’t dropping her off. She was like: “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ve got my CareDriver!” My wife and I thought that was a pretty remarkable thing to see. 

We often hear that kids gain a sense of independence with HopSkipDrive. 

Yes, she would come to us at the breakfast table and show us the HopSkipDrive app and say: “Hey, so here’s the CareDriver I’m with today.” She was able to kind of take control over the process. We checked in when we got an alert or a notice, but it gave her her own agency, which is so important — especially when you feel like you’ve lost something due to your whole world changing because of your new IEP structure.

I think it really helped her feel better about everything. She was able to be positive, and there was no negativity or dark cloud around her IEP experience. It was normalized, and HopSkipDrive was a big part of that.

HopSkipDrive partners with school districts and families all over the country to fulfill the transportation needs of students with disabilities and IEPs with transportation requirements.


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