Back to school - it doesn't seem that long ago that our kids came tumbling off the bus screaming, "It's summer...it's summer! The summer flew by way too quickly and we find ourselves beginning another school year; starched uniforms, spotless tennis shoes, crisp backpacks bulging with notebooks and potential. Potential for every child who is given the chance to learn and grow; potential for a creative mind that might not fit the mold of what a 4th grader is supposed to be but who marches to the beat of his own drum. Potential for those who may not have been given the chance to succeed, and potential for those who have never had someone tell them how smart they are. No matter the background of any student, to see a face light up with understanding is like clouds parting after a storm.
This week we watched our children file onto the bus as traffic backed up as far as the eye could see. Our children didn't seem rushed or terribly interested in the line of cars forming behind the bus as they gathered their backpacks and began the long but necessary parting of the ways. This routine happens each morning as the children line up to board the bus: last minute laces need to be tied, errant jackets retrieved from the lawn, lose papers stuffed into backpacks, and messy ponytails quickly neatened. Finally, the line begins to slowly move toward the steps of the bus; three steep steps up to the driver, who motions for each child to take a seat. One child will invariably turn to blow a kiss or assure herself that someone will be waiting when the bus returns in the afternoon and the whole procession comes to a halt. Each child in turn feels the need to repeat what the child in front of him has just done. Our staff patiently line up and assure the children that yes, they will be waiting at the bus stop promptly at 2:30pm. "Have a good day! Yes, I put your permission slip in your folder. Be sweet! No, you don't have to eat broccoli if they serve it at lunch. Mind your manners! Okay, just a quick hug and then off you go."
The line down the street grows longer until finally, everyone is loaded onto the bus. Shiny faces are pressed to the windows as the bus belches and lurches forward. Our staff wave until the bus is out of sight, then hustle back to the houses to get the middle school students out of bed. A similar routine will be repeated for each wave of students. Finally, when the last bus has pulled away, the preschoolers and toddlers stumble out of bed and settle at the table for breakfast. There will be more hairs to comb, more faces to wash, and more outfits to coordinate, but the basic premise remains the same: potential. Potential in each teenager mindful of test scores and after-school activities. Potential in each 10-year-old who cares more about fitting in than learning about sentence formation. Potential in a child who has missed so much school that it will take one-on-one tutoring to catch up. And yes, potential in every toddler and preschooler who holds a crayon for the first time, learns to share, and begins to understand. It's all a rite of passage that begins with that first step onto the big yellow bus and ends with a graduation ceremony celebrating 13 years of education. One step...one year...at a time.