Thursday, May 24, 2007

My view of busing

I rode a bus to school every day for many years, so for me, busing was routine. I considered it a normal activity. The time on the bus (up to 45 minutes each way) was actually rather pleasant, a good time to be with other children without parents or a teacher present. It was sort of like recess.

For my busy parents, who both worked, the longer school day (extended by busing) must have been helpful. Looking back now, I'm tempted to use the phrase 'free childcare'!

In the 1970's, when I was a young mother living in another state, I was puzzled by all the furor over "school busing" in Boston and elsewhere. Why did parents express such horror that their children might have to ride on a bus to a distant school? I wondered why my parents had never expressed any opposition. I thought about my own experiences, and couldn't think of a reason to oppose the bus rides. So it seemed obvious to me that people who opposed desegregation were using the arguments against school busing as a cover for their real opposition to racial integration. My first child was walking to an integrated school in our neighborhood, so neither busing nor integration were controversial there.

Today I live in a school district where parents get angry if busing is denied to their children. (Reductions in budgets have led to cuts in busing services.) Maybe the core problem is resistance to change. People fight to keep the status quo.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Getting to School

Last month I wrote about my experiences in first grade. This month's column is about how I got to school. I walked to the Hathorne School for first grade. For second grade I was assigned to the Charter Street School in downtown Danvers, and had to be "bused" there. After the Charter Street School closed, I was transferred to the newly constructed elementary school. But soon that school was too crowded, and by fifth grade I was assigned to the Junior High School on Conant Street, next to the then High School. Since I was already riding the bus the school, it didn't much matter that I was assigned to a more distant school. I typically spent 45 minutes in transit on the bus each way, as I was one the first picked up and one of the last dropped off.

This month's column is called "Taxis, Buses, and Wild Ducks." It was published on May 3, 2007.
Here is a copy of what I submitted (written April 26):

Taxis, Buses and Wild Ducks
By Sandy Nichols Ward

I had many adventures getting to school in the 1950’s and witnessed the evolution of a school bus route in northern Danvers. I walked to first grade, crossing Route 1 (a two-lane road) to Hathorne School. Sometimes I walked with a friend who lived in one of the little cabins behind the gas station near the Route 1 and Preston/Nichols Street intersection. We were supposed to wait for a policeman to help us cross the turnpike, but sometimes we’d just run across.

By second grade, our local school was gone and we had to be “bused” to schools in downtown Danvers. Marie was our “bus driver” and she was very friendly. But she didn’t drive a bus; she drove a taxi!  I liked the door-to-door service. She drove up Nichols street collecting classmates Gordon Lindroth, Ray Dirks, and Janet Hoberg before stopping for me. Then on to the cabins, and Route 1 north, and across a long road by a big farm, where Alice joined us. We then proceeded south to school. 

The taxi rides and friendly care by Marie continued for another year or so.  As our younger siblings joined us, the small taxi became crowded.  A larger taxi replaced it.  I remember the excitement of seeing the long taxi with  jump seats in the floor of the middle section.  When she arrived at our house, it was time to unfold the extra seats and make room for us. Soon that taxi, too, became crowded.  I recall children sitting on each other’s laps, and Marie’s stern warning NOT to touch the door handles.

A big yellow school bus eventually replaced the taxi. I remember that some of us sat up front and some of us sat at the very back, and nobody sat in the long middle section. Most of the bus was empty.  It seemed strange and impersonal after that taxi. A man was driving, instead of Marie.  I had to walk out to Route 1 to a bus stop rather than be picked up at our front door.  But on one extraordinary day, the bus DID come to our door.  That was the day of the ducklings.

My mother was fond of birds and had posted bird feeders and nesting boxes around our yard, including a big box on a pole in the pond south of our kitchen windows.  We called it the “wood duck box” and in fact wood ducks did nest in it every year.  We loved to see the colorful feathers on the male wood duck. One school morning during breakfast we heard persistent calls from the pond. A female wood duck was swimming back and forth at the base of that pole, calling and calling, looking up towards the hole on the front of the box high above her.  We grabbed binoculars and looked at the hole. A little yellow something was appearing in the hole, and then disappearing!  Ducklings?  We had NEVER seen wild ducklings before.  As we watched in astonishment, one little ball of yellow leaned out of the hole and fell into the water far below, sinking below the surface, and then bobbing up.  The first duckling!  We were beside ourselves with excitement!  The mother duck was also excited, and continued calling and swimming back and forth. Soon a second duckling took the plunge!  And then a third!   Ohhhh!  Such joy!

But I was about to miss my bus to school. My mother gave clear orders: RUN to the bus stop, tell the driver what’s happening, and invite the whole busload to come see the ducklings!  I did as I was told, and soon the bus was parked in front of our little house and the children were at our windows.  We lost count of ducklings somewhere after 14 or 15. The fast movements of ducklings swimming around their mother created a chaotic blur of yellow.  What a thrill to see this sight! How wonderful to have a bus driver who understood the importance of an educational moment!

This school bus route in northern Danvers remained the same for years, but the population grew as farms gave way to housing developments and the trailer parks expanded.  A second bus was added.  By 10th grade, both buses were full and running TWO  trips each. No time then to stop for wild ducks.