Back in the old days, we walked to school, uphill, both ways. But today it seems many more parents drive their children to school. Whatever the method of transportation, each has a culture all its own. And that’s for the parents.
When we moved to Lysander a summer ago, I asked the other moms on the street, “How’s the bus work?” The school district sent us a letter in August with a bus number and time for our two children to be at the stop, but the block parents could provide more details. I was more apprehensive about the bus than my children were. As a “walker,” I’d heard stories about how nasty some kids can be on the bus and even some current-day bullying tales. But my children were excited about it. Whew.
Turns out the kids all wait in the driveway of a corner house—whether their parents are there or not. In the early weeks of the school year, my husband or I would accompany our children to the bus stop. One, two or even three other moms would be there some mornings, and so began our daily check-ins. The parents could break up minor fights, encourage children NOT to try to slide down the driveway in the rain, wave to the bus driver, and just make sure our little bundles of frustration (I mean joy) got onto the bus and off to school OK. Then we’d breathe a group sigh of relief and head to our respective homes.
The community of walking parents sounds even nicer, though. My friends who live walking distance from their elementary school in Syracuse talk about the various parents, mostly moms, they see by the school each morning. They plan to meet there to walk home together. They stop by each other’s home for tea--granted only once in awhile. And they and their children get some fresh air and exercise each morning and afternoon. Of course, that requires being home with enough time to walk to and from school.
“Definitely part of the reason we chose the neighborhood we live in, thinking that we might have kids, was the idea that you could walk to your neighborhood school,” says Lisa Neville, a mother of three children in Syracuse. “I think it’s something that our kids actually look forward to,” she says, adding that they even turn down offers of a ride on her way to work in really bad weather.
As they’ve gotten older, “You can say goodbye to them a little sooner, Neville notes. Oldest daughter Ella, 12, leads Lucas, 9, and Clara, 6. There’s a “calculated step toward more independence” in allowing the kids to walk home together, too, Neville says. She knows they cross one street with a crossing guard and have only one other street to cross without an adult.
There’s a social aspect to it as well. “It’s neat to see the same people at the same time (and) you join each other on the way,” Neville says of the grown-ups. And for the kids: “There’s an opportunity for friendships in the neighborhood that wouldn’t be fostered at school,” she says.
For the bus riders and their parents, there are other elements to worry about. In the early days, my kids could sit wherever they wanted to on the bus. But by week two, they had to sit by grade, starting with the kindergartners in the front. I was glad that my son, who’s 8, initially sat with my daughter, who’s a year younger. When they switched to grade sitting, they both were fine, too. We soon learned the names of other kids on the bus and even nicknames the kids made up for each other (all nice, thank goodness).
Then one day the principal called the students on “Bus 24” down to the lunchroom. Turns out the fifth-graders were making too much noise on the bus and the driver had complained. The principal did not take this lightly, and order returned on the bus. School districts provide standards for bus behavior, often listed on their Web sites. Last school year, my son was asking to buy a lot of gum, although I rarely saw him chewing it. He was learning a key way to make friends: Hand out gum on the bus. They are not allowed to eat on the bus and my children return home famished. The six-minute drive from our house to the school by car takes about 40 minutes when done by bus on a prescribed route home. Two girls were snooty to my daughter on the bus at times, but she persevered and I was proud of her. The kids looked forward to Fridays on the bus. If they had behaved well all week, the bus driver played the radio for them.
But those were the days my children made the bus. More days found my husband and me waving at the bus as it drove by our kitchen window and our children seemed to linger in the family room (aka TV room). See, we stay up late; one of us always gets home after 6 p.m., so we don’t eat before 7. Then there’s bath time, more homework time, and just plain family time. With bedtime around 9, we’re not good about getting the kids up for an 8:05 a.m. bus stop. And so we resort to the car.
Previously our children attended the Montessori School of Syracuse, where most parents drove their children. The school has a drop-off routine that begins with preschool years even: Cars pull up in the car circle and teachers help the children out of the car and walk them into the building. The philosophy behind this is that it makes the children’s separation into “their” world more clear for them. Rather than having a parent walk them into the building, the children leave the parent’s world behind and venture into the child’s world. At my kids’ new school, we soon learned one staff member stood outside by the unlocked back door. She greeted them as they stumbled by in whatever mood they had chosen for the day. If she wasn’t there, we were possibly late. Turns out the school staff prefer the kids arrive by bus because it gets there 15 or so minutes before the Pledge of Allegiance starts the official day. They want the kids to have time to adjust. Interesting. I didn’t realize they were allowed to have some unscripted time at school.
So we prepare for a new year of trying to make the bus. Of course, we’ll try to eat earlier, get homework done before dinner, etc., so we can wake the kids up earlier. My friend Chris swears by the “Tomorrow Table.” When her two daughters were school age, they had to put everything they wanted to take to school the next day on the Tomorrow Table. In the morning, it was easy to plop it into whatever kind of bags they used (pre-backpack generation), and off they went. No running around looking for that overdue school-library book or sneakers for gym class. I like the idea, but it would require clearing off a tabletop covered in yesterday’s and last week’s favorite items.
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