Q&A with Dr. Rosalva Lagunas, Director of Federal Programs and Grants at Tolleson Union High School District

Dr Lagunas Tolleson Union High School DistrictDr. Rosalva Lagunas (pictured left) is a fierce advocate for educational equity for all students at Tolleson Union High School District in Tolleson, Arizona. In her role as Director of Federal Programs and Grants, she works to ensure the district is meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, including students in foster care and students experiencing homelessness. 

We spoke with her about her passion for helping students and families; the importance of consistency and school-of-origin transportation for students; and the many ways Tolleson Union High School District’s partnership with HopSkipDrive is positively impacting schools, students and families.

Tell us about your role and why you love what you do.

I’m entering my fourth year as Director of Federal Programs and Grants at Tolleson Union High School District. Within this role, I am also the McKinney-Vento and Foster Care Liaison.

With these responsibilities, my heart is there for our most vulnerable populations because I feel that understanding the law — and knowing and being an advocate for the students — can really help them out. I see a lot of things that are happening and how it impacts our students. And if we can just do one little thing for them to keep consistency in their lives, then we should be able to do that.

I work with a great team that supports our students and our whole district. But we always try to take care of our most vulnerable populations to ensure they receive an equitable education.

Can you talk briefly about the requirement to provide McKinney-Vento transportation and how the partnership with HopSkipDrive is helping?

By law, districts are required to provide transportation to McKinney-Vento students, or students experiencing homelessness. And Tolleson has done that, but we’ve done that with our own transportation. Sometimes we’ve had to use a third-party vendor, which is hard because we have limited funds. 

But the A for Arizona grant we received and our partnership with HopSkipDrive has really helped us. It’s allowed us to reallocate funds to instructional supplies for our McKinney-Vento students. So in that sense, it has helped us out because with inflation and the current circumstances, our families are really hurting. We’re happy to have those funds that we once used for transportation to help our students and families in other ways.

With our foster care students, we work with DCS to help support our students with transportation. It’s a collaboration amongst all of us. But with HopSkipDrive, we can keep students at their school of origin and provide the transportation they need.

With HopSkipDrive now being used in your district, can you talk a little more about specific instances you’ve seen where it’s been beneficial for students?

I think one of the greatest opportunities we have with this partnership with HopSkipDrive is to provide transportation for our foster care students. This is one of our most vulnerable populations. We hear stories about how they move from one school to another — they can move to five different schools within a school year because of their situations. There are so many things happening in their lives that we can’t control. 

But one of the things that we can control is the consistency they get by attending the same school regardless of where they move so they can keep those relationships with their friends and teachers. If we can provide that consistency in their lives, it goes a long way.

For foster care students, there are systems in place to communicate with the school of origin. Sometimes there may be a new placement, so they have a new school in their new place of residence. In that case, we communicate with DCS and the new school, and we determine whether it is beneficial for the student to stay at the school of origin or to move. We have those conversations, but one of the last questions is transportation. 

Transportation access can be difficult with foster care group homes. We’ve had situations where the group home couldn’t provide transportation, and we were able to let them know that the district partners with HopSkipDrive and can provide the transportation. The students are happy. The group homes are happy. That’s one example of success stories we’ve seen. 

Partnering with HopSkipDrive has also helped with our transportation department. Usually, they would pick up those drives, and right now everyone is short of staff. Sometimes the routes are longer, and it takes more time to get the students home. With HopSkipDrive, the students are able to get home sooner and do homework, or they’re able to stay at the school for extracurricular activities instead of being on the bus for an hour or more. 

We encounter other situations with our McKinney-Vento students, or students experiencing homelessness. They move around to other schools or districts, but when they’ve already made relationships at their school of origin, they want to stay there. At the district, we are responsible for making sure we provide that transportation. When there are these distances that are really far away, HopSkipDrive benefits the students because they’re able to create their own schedule with HopSkipDrive. 

We had a family with some students that were in a situation where they were out of district boundaries, and they wanted to continue attending their extracurricular activities. With HopSkipDrive, they were able to do that. And we know that when students are participating in extracurricular activities and after-school programs, they connect with the school, make relationships with the staff members and peers. We’ve seen that they’re more successful at school. They graduate. They attend class and get better grades because they have those relationships and that connectedness to the school. 

We also have city bus passes, and the students often have to wake up super early to use the city bus and arrive on time. But with HopSkipDrive, they’re able to eat breakfast or don’t have to wake up so early to arrive at school at the appropriate time. Or they can stay after school to participate in tutoring or after-school programs.

Has the flexibility that HopSkipDrive offers been helpful for students?

With the HopSkipDrive app, families can track their students on their way to school or home. They can also cancel transportation when they have appointments. It helps students with their attendance to have a consistent ride.

When we do share transportation with other districts, there can be inconsistencies with transportation. And it’s a burden on the students when they’re not picked up or calling because they don’t see the bus drivers. HopSkipDrive provides consistency

How do district parents and families feel about HopSkipDrive?

The families are really happy with the transportation we provide. I think part of it is the empowerment we give our families, and the feeling of consistency. We’re hearing things like: “I really like this. It’s really helpful. It saves me time. I don’t have to miss work or clock out early to go pick up my student. They’re able to participate in extracurricular activities. This is really helping us out, and we don’t know what we’d do without it.”

It’s also about the safety and security of their students. They know their child is safe because we share that HopSkipDrive CareDrivers must pass an extensive background check and fingerprint clearance. So we make them feel comfortable and safe.

And then they’re able to also track their students in the app to see where they are and where they’re going. So, I think that’s another benefit that helps them feel secure, too.

Tolleson Union High School District logoThe Tolleson Union High School District in Arizona is home to nearly 12,000 high school students, 550 qualified teachers, 50 administrators (including the superintendent), and a five-member governing board responsible for establishing policies and procedures for district governance.


HopSkipDrive works with school district, county and nonprofit partners across the country to ensure all children can access opportunities.

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