On a sunny spring morning I visited the Montessori Academy at Edison Lakes in Mishawaka, Ind. to interview a group of elementary students to discuss their preference for traveling to and from school.
The Montessori Academy is named after the Italian physician and pioneer educator Maria Montessori who developed a methodology for educating young children that stresses the development of initiative and natural abilities. For students attending the Montessori Academy at Edison Lakes the school bus is not a travel option. Bus service is simply not available.
I was anxious to visit Mrs. Reynolds classroom where my niece Amy Bluth, a nine-year-old student, would be my host. Amy would assist me in learning more about how students in grades 1-3 traveled to school when the school bus was not a travel option.
I was curious if these students preferred not riding the school bus, or did they feel as if they were missing out on a part of Americana that was part of my childhood? Did these students wish they could ride the school bus? My final question would be how did these children travel to and from school?
I interviewed in a group setting many of the 21 students in Mrs. Reynolds' classroom. Each student had very specific information and a very definite opinion about how they were transported. The majority of them traveled with their mother or father in a car or van. I was impressed by how explicit the they were about the type of vehicle they traveled in. Several students reported walking or biking when weather permitted. One student was transported by a baby-sitter, another commented about traveling to school with a neighbor, a third traveled in a car pool and so on.
I presented Mrs. Reynolds' class with the question "Would you prefer taking a school bus or traveling by an alternate means of transportation to school?"
The majority of students were quick to share that they were happy not to travel on the school bus for the following reasons: "You had to wait too long for the school bus," "The school bus is too noisy," and "The ride is too long." I was surprised when one student commented: "the school bus was smelly." I had never heard that comment before.
But it did bring back an old memory or two. Next was: "What do you like about the school bus?" Several students said they liked talking with other students. One student said if he could ride the school bus he would not have to sit next to his baby brother. Everyone laughed.
The students interviewed expressed a bold preference for not having to ride the school bus. This was particularly valuable information because many of the children had experienced traveling by school bus in the past.
I felt privileged to have the opportunity to visit the Montessori Academy. The students made me feel like a million dollars during my brief stay when they referred to me as a writer, columnist, and journalist.
My experience paralleled my studies about the Montessori approach to education. Most of all I was delighted to be Amy's Aunt Linda. My experience was rewarding and I remember how much I missed teaching young children.
Maureen, my sister-in-law didn't want to burst my bubble, but she could not pass up the opportunity to bring me back to reality. I was responsible for picking up Amy and my nephew Jonathan at the end of the school day. I picked up Amy when Jonathan informed me that he had to remain at school for a Student Council meeting. I drove Amy home. As soon a I got home it was time to return for Jonathan.
He almost got me into trouble because he was supposed to skip Student Council, go home, grab a snack, get dressed and go directly to soccer practice. Needless to say he missed soccer practice. I felt like an irresponsible Aunt and instant taxi service.
In just one short afternoon I realized how grateful parents must be for the yellow school bus, especially when they have several children attending different schools, all beginning and ending at various times. On this sunny spring morning in Mishawaka Indiana I laughed when my memory was jogged about my days on the school bus including the occasional smelly salami sandwich that nobody claimed.
Dr. Linda F. Bluth was the branch chief of Community Interagency Services with the Maryland Department of Education's Division of Special Education. She is a nationally recognized expert on special needs transportation.
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