Bitter cold. Snowy side walks. Students trickle in late as they fight against the antics of Old Man Winter. And on top of all of this, there is a substitute bus driver who is on a route that he has never driven before.
Floods of calls from parents of this one bus that still hasn’t arrived at their students’ stop – 20 minutes beyond the normal time. The secretaries are frantically calling the bus company to see what is going on while trying to comfort parents, instructing them to have their students return home because of the cold.
Soon a neighbor comes to school, telling us how he has picked up about 5 students (as many as he could hold in his van) to bring them to school because the buses still hadn’t come to pick up the students – 30 minutes beyond the normal time.
After communicating with the bus company, they informed us of the substitute driver and told us that the driver was going to go back to the stops and pick up students they missed on the first round because they didn’t know all the stops. We were also instructed to let parents know that the bus would even do a curbside pick up if the address is given, just for this particular day.
As I made my way to the main hallway near the front door, I noticed a line of about 15 students waiting for late passes, shivering from the cold and even some little ones crying because they were not properly dressed (no longjohns or boots) and were possibly suffering from the beginnings of frostbite (immediately got them to the office to get warm with some hot chocolate and some blankets and socks we had in there)
I asked” Why are we late? One of the older students said “Our bus never came.” And one of the little ones said, “So we walked to school.” When they told me where their stop was, it was almost a mile away from the school. I was stunned.
Imagine, a line of students walking on snowy sidewalks, in the bitter cold, some not fully dressed for the cold – making their way to school, past many blocks of blight.
Astonished and amazed, I just looked at these kids. Why didn’t they just turn around and go home? They were so close to their houses where they could have gotten warm. As I stood there looking, one student simply said, “We had to come to school because we didn’t want to miss anything.”
…and a child shall lead them.
What makes students weather the bitter cold and walk to school? Some may say that maybe there was no one at home to receive the students. Some others may say that maybe they don’t have warm houses and much food at home so the school is that place for them to receive those things. To both I would agree in part. But I would also have to add that these children knew that if they could just get to school, every thing would be alright. They knew that someone would take care of the problem because they are concerned for them. The students knew that school would be warm and there would be food to eat. They knew they would be safe. They knew that they would be protected.
What does that say to us, as adults, in education? School is more than a place of learning for students. School is a refuge. School is the ark of safety. School is a place of protection. But this environment doesn’t develop arbitrarily. It has to be fostered and cultivated. It has to become a part of the overall mission for the staff. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It is not a “one size fit all” solution that is created and that can be used in every school in America. It has to be developed by the staff based on who they are and who their children and community are.
I was grateful they made that long trek safely. But I was even more humbled by the children’s efforts and desires to come to school because they wanted to – not because they needed to.
I smiled at the children getting their tardy passes, rushing to class. As I turned to go down the opposite end of the hall, I did shed some tears.