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Tacoma program giving free ORCA cards to students is ‘phenomenal’

Tacoma high school students will soon get free ORCA cards. (MyNorthwest photo)

The City of Tacoma recently announced it would be giving all of its high school students free ORCA cards, a move designed to allow more flexibility for kids before and after school.

How do free ORCA cards and college fit in with affordability?

“This is phenomenal,” said KIRO Nights co-host Gee Scott.

“Yeah, I absolutely love this,” agreed co-host Aaron Mason.

Around 7,900 Tacoma students will be offered a free ORCA card in a pilot program spanning the 2020-2021 school year. That’s over twice what Tacoma Public Schools is normally able to give out.

While a seemingly small gesture, it’s especially significant for kids participating in after-school programs.

“You start thinking about some of the families who don’t have vehicles. So sometimes, if they don’t have these free ORCA cards, they can’t afford to go and take public transportation — they have to get on the school bus which takes them home. ” said Gee.

“Now they have the opportunity to go and join the chess club, to go join the band, to go join these different type of clubs to be able to enrich their lives,” he added.

It’s not just before school where students could see benefits, though, with upside on the front-end of the day as well.

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“You have to get up really early to catch a school bus — you have one shot to get that school bus while it’s out on its route,” Mason pointed out. “Sometimes it can be two hours from the time you get on the bus to when you eventually get to school. That’s valuable sleep time, which studies have shown over and over again is crucial, especially to high school-aged kids. Now you can maybe sleep in a little bit more and just catch a bus to school.”

While the district isn’t certain exactly how many kids will choose to utilize the ORCA card program, the reception from students has been widely positive.

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