School Bus

March, 2018

When advocating in my school district for a program for gifted children, I really didn’t give transportation much thought. I was a teacher. Buses brought kids to school and took them home. A few times each year we used buses for field trips. Then I began piloting a program for gifted third and fourth graders. Madeline’s mom stopped in after school that first week to talk with me about transportation to school.   Our special program was located near the center of the district. The district had organized busing to take children to their neighborhood schools in the mornings, as they usually did, and then a shuttle bus took children over to our classroom in a different school. The empty buses then proceeded to the nearby bus barn a few blocks away. But Madeline’s mom had a concern with this. Madeline was upset because she had been a visitor to her neighborhood school since she could remember, and it had been her school in kindergarten, first, and second grade. Now she had to leave her friends and “old” teachers; she was uncomfortable trying to explain why she couldn’t stay at “her” school. Madeline’s mom thought she might transport Madeline herself.

As I thought about this, I wondered about other children coming to my class. Did they all experience the same thing? Probably. Most of them didn’t have a parent at home available to provide alternative transportation. I knew the school district was already taking each child to his/her home after school. The morning routine was an economy. The district didn’t have a budget to do this any other way. But what about Madeline’s dilemma?

I decided to teach each of my students that this class was a better fit. Like shoes in a shoe store, it isn’t a customer’s fault if the shoe doesn’t fit. It’s not the shoe’s fault either. It‘s simply not the best match. This class was a better fit. Explaining it this way – to themselves and to others – seemed to work for most of my students and their parents.

Years later when I became administrator of the program, transportation was an issue again. We had testing for admittance to the program on Saturdays. No matter how many times some children were re-scheduled for the test, they never made it. The problem: Transportation. Some didn’t have a parent available with a car and a day off! It was clearly an equity issue, so as program manager I changed the testing the following year to school days in students’ own schools.

Bussing came up again when the Great Recession hit. Our district wanted to cut transportation to our program for gifted children altogether! A neighboring district was of a similar size and demographic. We even shared the same test measurement and standards for admittance. However, they did not have transportation at all for their program. I did a little informal survey and found that while we both identified roughly the same number of students for programming, my district – with transportation – had 30% more students actually in the program than our neighboring district. I felt strongly that transportation was a major stumbling block to program participation. When this happens, it is an equity issue; I argued that in my district. And we kept our busing.

Then I became a grandmother with twin granddaughters in New York City who had been admitted – through Saturday testing – to a program for gifted children. Since the public school system had a policy of not allowing twins to share the same class, my granddaughters at age five had to travel across the district to a school with two classes in each grade level for the program. The only bus available picked them up just after 7 a.m. at a location a few blocks from their home. In the late afternoons, the driver could not drop them off without an adult there to pick the up. For six years they did the early morning walk, but I wondered how many others were like them and just stayed with their neighborhood school, missing out on the program and an appropriate education altogether.

Equity for access to programs for gifted children is a state and national issue. In the absence of gifted programs in each school – difficult at best for such a small and rare population – transportation is a large part of the equity gap, with classically underserved populations left behind for lack of a ride.