GETTING HERE: Life for Shalhevet’s long-distance commuters
About two dozen Shalhevet students trek more than an hour to school each day, and most do their share of co-curriculars as well.
May 13, 2018
BP Graphic by Zev Kupferman
A near majority of Shalhevet students — 107 out of 250 this year — live in Beverlywood or Pico-Robertson, an average of about one-and-a-half miles from school. The second-most-common student location is Beverly Hills, with 43 Shalhevet homes in that neighborhood. Living in these locations means a commute less than 15 or 20 minutes long to Shalhevet.
Another 38 students live nearby as well, within the Miracle Mile, Carthay Circle, Beverly Grove, Hancock Park or West Hollywood areas.
But a small group of students lives far away, with 15 households in the San Fernando Valley, two each in Westchester, Venice and Brentwood, and one each in Glendale, Bel Air and the Mulholland canyons. Their commutes range from about 45 minutes to more than an hour-and-a-half.
About 23 Shalhevet students wake up earlier than everyone else, get home later and still try to manage the school’s co-curricular schedule and course load. Some do so successfully, but it comes at a cost — in sleep, socializing, physical activity and leisure time.
The problem is exacerbated by Los Angeles’ uncommonly congested streets. One study is by INRIX, a company that specializes in transportation analysis, which reported in February that L.A.’s traffic congestion has been the worst in the world for the last six years.
Of course, everyone at Shalhevet can attest to that fact, but only some sit through it for approximately two hours everyday.
Senior Daniel Lorell spends approximately two hours per day in the car, commuting from Westchester near LAX. He wakes up at seven in the morning and arrives at school at eight. It takes a little over an hour for him to get home. His dad used to drive him in the morning, but now Daniel takes Uber both ways.
“I would not say I like my commute,” Daniel said. “Because it’s frustrating to just stare at cars not moving in front of you, and you just want to get home after school whether it’s do to homework or sleep. It’s aggravating to be sitting and not moving.”
In the car he listens to music or podcasts, which he says he likes, but it doesn’t make up for the lost time.
“I’ve gotten some homework done in the car,” Daniel said. “But for some reason my mind is not focused.”
He says he has turned in assignments late more frequently than students who do not have a long commute and that he would have been able to get more done in high school had he lived closer to Shalhevet.
General Studies Principal Mr. Daniel Weslow lives in Fillmore, and has perhaps the farthest and most brutal commute of anyone who studies or works at the school. Fillmore is approximately 56 miles away, being farther north than Simi Valley. In the morning, he wakes up either at around 4:15 a.m. and arrives at school at 6:30 a.m., or at 5:15 a.m. and arrives at 7:15 a.m.
Mr. Weslow said it takes him 50 minutes to get to the city in the morning. If he leaves school at 8 or 9 p.m., it takes him one hour to get home, but if he leaves before 6 p.m. it can take two to three hours. He tries to leave earlier, even though it takes longer, because it means more time he can spend with his family.
He said when he first came to Shalhevet he tried listening to audio books, but it wasn’t practical.
“It was too hard to concentrate,” Mr. Weslow said. “I would hear the audio but drift off and focus on other things. Now I do voice [dictation] for emails and text messages and save them as drafts and send them out at home after checking them over. I also call and check in on my mom and family, talk to friends, so when I get home I can be present and check out from tech….
“My mind wanders, it’s really going through the list of things I need to do and want to improve upon.”
Though this may sound stressful — having an automatic two to three hours a day of just sitting and thinking about productivity — Mr. Weslow says it’s therapeutic and gives him time to reflect.
When he isn’t making phone calls or thinking about pedagogy, he is listening to Jay Z, Prince, Lil Jack Johnson, some early 2000s tunes, Don Carlos, Bob Marley, relaxation music and Frank Sinatra.
“I don’t always find it therapeutic,” he added. “Sometimes on those long days it can be frustrating when it takes an hour to get to the freeway. I try to make the best of it because I love my students — it doesn’t matter how far away I am, I care deeply for every student and what we’re doing, and our goals and steps we’re taking toward accomplishing them.”
Studies conducted by the Rand Corp. and others have shown that commuting long distances is linked to obesity, depression, lack of cardiovascular health and lower rates of physical exercise. Those who commute by driving are even more susceptible to these negative side effects.
Commuting long distances by bicycle, public transportation, or Uber can still cause health problems, but are less likely and less severe than for those who drive themselves to and from work alone.
Being left alone with one’s thoughts for hours a day, often turning angry and despondent in the face of road closures, backed up streets and watching the sky turn from light to dark would make anyone depressed.
Daniel Lorell says he knows these statistics to be true.
“Commuting gives you less time for the things you have to do,” he said. “And therefore you have less time for the things you want to do. When you think about it, when eight hours is for school, two hours is for commuting, you’re not left with a whole lot of time before you have to get to bed.”
For Daniel, his commute has meant less time for exercise, sleep, leisure and hobbies.
But there are some upsides to commuting. Alumnus Alex Silberstein ‘17 wrote in a college application essay about commuting between Shalhevet and Sherman Oaks.
“A high school driver’s experience usually consists of a few Spotify playlists, some Apple Music, and sometimes even the radio,” Alex wrote. “To most, time alone in the car can be dull and is tolerated better with musical stimulation. But I view my long commute to school through the windy roads of Laurel Canyon as sacred time.
“Instead of listening to music, I prefer quiet. I clear my head and reflect on what’s going on in my life. Time alone in the car has proven therapeutic and something I deeply cherish. ”
Looking back on the experience from his gap year at Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem, Alex sees his commute as having been both positive and negative.
“The experience of commuting from the Valley was really formative for me in some ways,” Alex said in a phone interview from his gap year in Israel. “But I’d take that extra hour of sleep and shorter car ride 10 out of 10 times.”
He also said learning how to wake up early and have a regimented schedule taught him management and self-discipline.
“Waking up at 6 a.m. every morning was dreadful,” he added. “Rides back from school on Laurel Canyon at the climax of rush hour were agonizing. Simply put, my days were really long.
“Looking back, I think my high school experience would have been much easier if I lived in the city. I was essentially working at an hour-long disadvantage from all of my peers, both in the morning and in the afternoon.”
Alex’s younger sister, freshman Noa Silberstein, faces this commute now. She has been doing it for a long time, having attended elementary and middle school at Maimonides Academy. She does not have her license yet, so she is driven to and from school by junior Donna Grunfeld. Noa says she has been waking up at six a.m. since she was five years old.
“It was really hard to get out of bed,” said Noa. “When I was younger I didn’t have much to do, so I could go to bed at eight. Now I try to get to sleep a lot earlier, I do my homework during free periods or anytime I have free time.”
With being a member of choir and the Drama department, she does not always get seven or eight hours of sleep.
“I’ve stayed up until one in the morning or midnight on days I have a co-curricular after school,” she said. “I wake up at six next morning…At the beginning of the year they encourage you to do a bunch of stuff but I have to think about rides, when I’m going to do all my homework, all of that.”
Noa has thought about what her life would be like if she lived near Shalhevet.
“It would be so different,” she said. “I would be able to hang out with my friends a ton more, I wouldn’t have to do work always at school. If I was sick at school I could easily go home. I would also do Model UN and join the swim team.”
One upside to living farther away, she said, is that she is able to “get out of the Shalhevet bubble,” meaning, away from the Pico-Robertson area where students often run into one another.
Commutes are common in large cities, but the problem in Los Angeles is perhaps exacerbated due to its lagging public transportation system. Boston, New York City and Chicago have efficient and complex systems of speedy subways which sidestep traffic. At the same time, these public transportation systems have been breaking down due to delays, overcrowding, and lack of funding and investment.
Still, however unpredictable, these systems keep the streets moving in metropolises. But Los Angeles is extremely spread out, with major metropolitan neighborhoods spanning from Silverlake all the way to Santa Monica, and many residents commuting into those areas from as far as Thousand Oaks or Hawthorne.
There are only six Metro lines, and none of them yet directly connect students in the Valley to Shalhevet’s niche between Carthay Center and Miracle Mile. Buses operate at the whim of LA traffic, making them not ideal.
Still, some students take a combination of buses and subways to get home.
Senior Aviva Katz, who has the experience of commuting from the Valley as well as living in Pico-Robertson, says the two lives are very different. Her younger sister and mother moved to Pico Robertson this year from Sherman Oaks.
When she lived in the Valley and she did not have a ride home, Aviva would spend an hour-and-a-half or more to get home by bus, which she said she did a few times a week throughout high school.
First, she would hop on the 217 local bus that has a stop right outside Shalhevet, at Fairfax and 8th. That took her to the underground subway station on Hollywood Blvd. She then took the Red Line subway to the last stop, Burbank and Lankershim. From there, her parents would pick her up or she would take another bus to her house.
Now that she can get home in 10 to 20 minutes, she says she can stay after school to participate in co-curriculars much more, and has been getting more sleep. She says that while there were benefits to living in the Valley — having a community she knew and more living space for example — she would take living in the city any day over Valley Village.
Aviva said there were times when she was upset with her parents for not moving to the city earlier, but she understands where they were coming from, given the difference in housing costs in the city. For her adult life, she says she is not sure about what she would place more value on — living expensively near work or cheaply but hours away.
But Daniel Lorell said he would be willing to commute in his adult life, despite the drawbacks.
“It’s something I’m used to, so it’s not something I can’t handle,” said Daniel. “As important as a short commute is, living somewhere you don’t like for the purpose of work is not something I would do.”
Purple Line will help commuters to Shalhevet — in 2023
Los Angeles County has seven subways, and though they run from Long Beach through Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, they still do not help the students commuting from Venice or Westwood or the Valley to Shalhevet. There are hundreds of street buses, but they are known to be unreliable, crowded and slow due to traffic.
Seniors Aviva Katz and Rami Gruman have commuted by public transportation to the Valley. They take Metro’s 217 local bus from Shalhevet at 8th and Fairfax to the Red Line subway on Hollywood and Highland, which goes to North Hollywood.
From there they can get a ride home or take another bus. There are no direct bus routes from Shalhevet to any of the areas long distance commuters live in.
However, a new extension of the Purple Line subway will likely help students commuting from the Valley, Westwood, Century City and some parts of Beverly Hills. The Purple Line — the construction project that has been snarling traffic on Wilshire Boulevard near Shalhevet for the last several years — currently only has eight stops, running from Wilshire/ Western in Koreatown to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles.
But new stations near Shalhevet — Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax, Wilshire/La Cienega — are to be completed by 2023. The stops at Wilshire/Rodeo and Century City/Constellation are expected to be completed in 2025. The completion dates of stops at Westwood/UCLA and Westwood/VA Hospital are still unknown.
The extended line will help students from the Valley, who will be able to board the Purple Line at Wilshire and Fairfax, take it to the Wilshire/Vermont stop which crosses with the Red Line, and then take the Red Line to the station in North Hollywood. The Purple Line will replace the 217 Metro bus, which moves at the will of street traffic and has unpredictable arrival times.
Students who live near UCLA and surrounding areas will one day be able to take the Purple Line straight to Shalhevet, along with students who live near the stops in Century City and Beverly Hills.