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VHS teachers accept bus ride challenge

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Teachers at Verbena High School have been challenged to ride every afternoon bus route for the school.

VHS Principal Tammy Hand is calling the initiative the “I Rode a Bus Today” Challenge.

“It is important for us as educators to realize many school-aged children deal with more than some of us do as adults,” Hand said. “I feel it can help us understand when issues arise at school or in the classroom, there may be an underlying reason that we are not aware of. Some of these kids have a lot going on. We may not can solve all problems, but we can create a safe environment and be understanding of where they’re coming from and I want teachers to realize that.”

She said riding the bus with the students also gave “teachers a chance to just sit, listen, and get to know them (students) as individuals.”

Hand has been pleased with the response. Teachers have already completed 35 trips.

“I have three elementary teachers that have completed the challenge,” Hand said.

Teacher Taylor Hardee said she knew many of her students were from low-income homes before beginning the challenge. However, after completing the challenge, she described it as “enlightening to say the least.”
Hardee said the experience “will continue to have a significant impact on my day-to-day interaction with my students and has benefitted me with a better understanding.”

Teacher Beth Pope had been excited about the challenge.

“This is only my fourth year living in Verbena, and I have not ventured out and explored the community that much,” Pope said. “I have thought of Verbena as a small community. After riding the buses, I have realized that the Verbena community is bigger than I had originally thought. I really enjoyed seeing all the younger students faces when they got on the buses in the afternoon, and we were on there.”

Teacher Jessica Martin said she was interested in the challenge when it was first announced as “a good way to get to know the students outside the classroom.”

“I rode the majority of the bus routes with two of my fellow teachers,” Martin said. “We have gotten some interesting and confusing looks when the students get on the bus and there are teachers in some of their seats.”

With each ride came new perspective.

“It’s one thing to know that a majority of your students come from a low-income family, but to actually witness it is totally different,” Hardee said. “Sometimes, we as teachers take things for granted and lose sight of the reality of some of our children’s lives and the struggles that they have to endure … Seeing some of the situations and lifestyles, albeit briefly, gave me an increased understanding and a heightened sense of compassion. Sometimes it helps to see what a child is going through to better understand the circumstances and possibly know how better to teach, discipline and interact with them.”

The initiative has been popular with the students.

“The students love for the adults to ride. The smaller children, especially, feel we are on there just for them,” Hand said. “One student has grown to love my high school counselor, Ms. Benson, and he will ask at breakfast if she is riding with him that afternoon.”

“They like to talk to us and tell us about their day,” Martin said. “Some of the younger students at the Annex ask us who we are because they’ve never seen us before. Then they go on to ask us how old we are, why we’re on their bus, what we teach, and if we know some of their relatives. They like to introduce their brothers and sisters to us and would tell us their stop was coming up soon.”

Once students knew about the challenge, they started asking Martin when she would be

riding their bus.”

Pope said students were excited that she would be seeing where they lived.

“After riding all of the buses, I have a new insight of how some of my students live,” Pope said.  “I also have a greater appreciation and understanding of why some of my students sleep during class, or don’t have a snack in the afternoon.”

Martin said she saw older students take a leadership role to help younger students.

“It is also as if students got to see us in a different light, outside of the school classroom,” Martin said. “They seemed to want to talk to us more during the day, like there was a connection due to us riding the bus. Riding the buses has also helped me gain a better understanding of our students’ lives outside the classroom.”

While the primary focus for the challenge was the students, Martin said it also gave her “a newfound appreciation for bus drivers.”

“I can tell that our bus drivers really care about our students,” Martin said. “I would encourage others to take the time to ride some of the bus routes.”

Martin said she was thankful to the school administrators for setting up the challenge.