Seats On The Bus.

At the start of my freshman year of high school I had a problem: there weren’t enouh seats on the bus. Getting on the bus again wasn’t an easy transition to make either. I’d spent two years of junior high being able to walk home from school, and then I was thrown into a new school that was twice as big. It took me a while to figure out where I belonged, made harder by the fact that I was one of those kids who mostly didn’t. Making it even worse my last class of the day was at the very back of the building, and unlike grade school where we were released in semi-orderly groups in high school everybody was turned out of our classes at the same time. So I had to navigate through the throngs to my locker, inconveniently placed about halfway between the front and back of the school, get my stuff, and then get to the bus hopefully before it left. It’s an inescapable fact that someone had to be the last kid on the bus, and by some possibly escapable coincidence that kid, most days, was me, and the best I could do was wander up and down the aisle until the bus driver yelled at me to sit down. In grade school there was plenty of room for two kids to sit comfortably in every seat, but in high school, well, we were all a bunch of sweaty, spready teenagers and I had to squeeze in as the third person in an already cramped seat. It was a math problem which makes it annoyingly ironic that math, my next to last class of the day, was in a sweet spot close to the front of the school that would have given me easy access to both my locker and the bus.
Some days I was so late getting to the bus that it would be gone and I’d stand there and say, “Well, this sucks.” Fortunately my mother was usually available to come and pick me up. I never missed the bus on purpose–as tempting as that was–but riding home with my mother I at least had the advantage of my own seat, and sometimes she’d let me practice driving, but that’s another story. And this is the point where I apologize to my mother for never realizing she probably had other things going on and that coming to pick me up from school took a chunk out of her day. I wasn’t the only one who benefited either; one day we picked up a friend’s sister who’d also been stranded and was trying to walk home.
Eventually I did figure things out. I started going to my locker before my last class, which, depending on how much homework I had, meant carrying my backpack full of twenty or more pounds of textbooks all over the school, and I found that at least one guy in the group I belonged to had a car. Still the problem of overcrowding on buses was one that was, even then, dangerous. I’m sure school administrators had done the math, but figuring that a few too many kids squeezed into a bus was better than adding an extra bus was still the wrong answer.
And here I am thinking about this in the time of COVID-19 and schools are weighing how exactly they’ll reopen, how they’ll impose social distancing rules if they let the students come back, and how students will get to and from school. And there are no easy answers here. Even continuing online learning, which some places are still doing, carries all kinds of problems, while letting kids go back to school in person runs the risk that they’ll either get sick or become carriers. Hybrid or staggered models–letting some kids learn virtually while others come to school–have all the same problems, and heighten the idea, already exaggerated in high school especially, of who belongs where and who doesn’t. Even though I don’t have kids of my own–not ones that need to go to school anyway–I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, hoping I could contribute some ideas or some insights, that from my own experience I could draw something more helpful than, “Well, this sucks.”
Eventually things will change, just as they have changed. And if there’s a silver lining to this very dark cloud it’s that a number of factors allow issues faced by individual students to be highlighted in ways they weren’t before. It’s harder, I think, for administrators to say that putting a few students at risk isn’t acceptable no matter what the math tells them. And we have to, collectively, work to make sure that every student belongs and that no one gets left behind.

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  1. Allison

    We used to call the bus “The Cheese” because it was yellow and funky-smelling. In elementary and middle school, it was OK – but I grew weary of the noise and confinement. In HS, I rode with my sister for two years, then drove myself the remaining two. It worked out well.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Calling the bus “The Cheese” is hilarious. Somehow we were never that clever. I’m just glad I quickly found a friend with a car and never had to worry about the bus again.

  2. M.L. James

    I was lucky not to have to ride the school bus. School was within walking distance, though my parents tended to drive us to and from. I guess they wanted to make sure we actually made it to school instead of playing hooky. I hate what the pandemic has done to all of us. I hate how it’s impacted even riding a school bus. I’m thankful that my children are grown. However, if mine were still school-age, I think I’d re-consider sending them to school until a vaccine was made available. There are just no easy solutions! I heard that on the first day of school in one district, a child tested positive and he, the teacher and all the students had to go into quarantine on the first day! Unbelieveable! Mona
    M.L. James recently posted…Technical DifficultiesMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There really aren’t any easy solutions and it sounds like sending kids to school is turning out to be terrible for a lot of reasons. Keeping them home isn’t great either. Anyway I do feel lucky that in junior high school I lived close enough to the school that I could walk home from school in the afternoons, cutting through yards and woods. I had a lot of interesting adventures along the way. My parents always drove me to school in the mornings, though.

  3. Ann Koplow

    There are several teachers in my Coping and Healing groups, Chris, and it’s scary to get the inside story about how administrators are dealing with the pandemic. And thanks for sharing the inside story of your high school experience. <3

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can’t imagine the difficulty teachers are facing right now, especially in the face of administrators who aren’t always making the best decisions.


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