About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

Ninety Minutes on a School Bus: One Way

A ninety-minute one-way school bus ride will make a parent do unexpected things.

Like enrolling your kid in online school when you’ve been a lifelong public school advocate.

My family lives on a five-acre farm outside of Bruno, a town of 102 in the northern part of Pine County, Minnesota. My 14-year-old son attended Willow River School, a K-12 school of about 400 students that comprises the entire Willow River School District. Back in 2001 Willow had a student-to-teacher ratio of 13:1, which is why we open-enrolled there. Depending on the number of students riding that year, pickup time at our house was anywhere from 6:30 to 6:45 a.m., with arrival at the school at 8:10.
Vic Waletzko's bus in our driveway.

The district that we live in is East Central. Through a series of consolidations and bifurcations going back to 1947, East Central consists of four smaller school districts: Askov, Sandstone, Kerrick and Bruno. (Thank you to Deborah Sewell for this piece of research.) At one time, there were three schools within eight miles of our house. Today, the nearest school is 18 miles away. 

Over the years I got to know the bus drivers very well; anyone who transported my kid that many miles needed to know he was appreciated. At Christmas that meant making pierogi for Vic Waletzko or gifting Harvey with a tin of Burt’s Bees Hand Salve. (Imagine what cold weather does to a driver’s hands on a bus ride that long.)

The Pre-Bus Commute
 It took a 90-minute bus ride to make 
me enjoy the music of Miley Cyrus.
With Vic I worked out an arrangement that cut half an hour off Wyatt’s bus ride. I drove Wyatt eight miles to the Bruno Deep Rock in town, and waited there with him until the 7:15 pickup. We would use that extra half-hour or so to review what Wyatt would be doing that day, practice spelling words, or just hang out and listen to MIX108, the pop radio station out of Duluth/Superior. (Another unexpected consequence of a ninety-minute bus ride: you develop an ear for Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.)

Our family’s experiences sync up with the findings of an award-winning report by the Rural School and Community Trust. The 2002 study examined the results of school consolidations in West Virginia in 1990. Among the findings:
  • ·       In four years the number of children who rode buses longer than two hours a day doubled, even though 25,000 fewer children rode buses.
  • ·       In 10 sample rural counties, 100 advanced courses had not been offered in the past two years despite being promised through consolidation.
  • ·       Students and parents reported stress and exhaustion. Student grades dropped, as did participation in after-school activities and time spent with family.
I can attest to the stress, especially in winter. Our house is two miles south of state Highway 23, those two miles consisting mostly of gravel and dirt roads. On an unplowed road or on an icy road, I would never know how much time was needed for the pre-bus commute.

But for eight years, we managed. By seventh grade we both began to pay attention to the commercials on MIX for online school. What finally made the bus ride unmanageable was junior high sports.

Away basketball games would mean Wyatt started homework as late as 9 p.m. and had a wakeup time of 5:30 a.m. His grades took the hit. My husband Mike and I tag-teamed driving Wyatt to algebra tutoring at 7 a.m. and picking him up at 5 from drafting tutoring. It was something we gladly did, and are grateful to the Willow River teachers who put in these hours. But 72 extra miles a day, compounded by soaring gas prices, made for an unsustainable course.

The Consolidation Conundrum
I’m sharing this story because I’m sure it’s happening in many other school districts across greater Minnesota. It wouldn’t surprise me if the wave of school district consolidations that occurred in the 1990s occurs again as a perceived cost savings. (The findings don't bear that out, though.)

At one point or another, every parent wrestles with what’s best for the community versus what’s best for his or her child. People have cautioned me and Mike about online school, bringing up the usual warnings: time management, educational standards, socialization. All things we’re keenly aware of. And things I’ll be writing about in future posts.

My response is usually this: “Would you be okay with your kid having a ninety-minute one-way bus ride?”

Picasaweb photo credit: luis alejandro es

1 comment:

  1. Thank you to MinnPost for featuring this entry as today's Blog Cabin post. This daily feature spotlights blogs from all over the state, not just the Twin Cities metro area. And the variety of topics is just as rich.

    MinnPost: http://www.minnpost.com/
    MinnPost Blog Cabin: http://www.minnpost.com/mnblogcabin/


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