There are so many “I never” moments with me and the public education system. I did not attend a K-12 school growing up. Instead, most of my siblings and I attended co-op programs taught by volunteers (mostly our parents) and dually enrolled in college classes during our high school years. Due to this unconventional upbringing, I never rode a school bus.
There are some downsides. I still can’t work a locker combination and never developed a thick skin or a poker face. There were also some definite perks. I rarely got bullied for my various style phases, including my semester of only wearing black and listening to metal. Co-op kids were a pretty accepting group. We loved learning and self-taught most subjects, with teachers as guides on standby, for when you got stuck. Maybe this learning environment is why I’m so curious about how things work and always want to learn everything about any subject. (Yes, this can annoy others. You can ask my husband how many articles and links I send him in a week.)
College and graduate school allowed me to get my fill of traditions like homecoming, spring break, and other school spirit events. I liked it all so much that I extended my time in academia and worked in residence life as a hall director. I loved mentoring an incredible team of student staff and helping shape the culture for the campus of live-on residents through programming and initiatives. I worked in non-profit education and, later, the environmental field. (A new field for me to discover. Yay!)
Several years later, when I was pregnant with Blake, I bought a cute “First Day of School” sign at the Target dollar section, thinking I could rearrange the letters to a baby’s due date for an upcoming shower I was hosting that weekend. It turned out they were glued on, but I kept the sign anyway.
Josh and I didn’t have a clear plan for our future child’s education. He had gone to both private and public schools and saw positives to either. Public, private, homeschool/co-operative, we had discussed them all, but the decision felt far off.
Fast forward a couple of years and we were raising a happy little toddler named Blake. Blake was having some delays in speech. His speech evaluation at 18 months had revealed he was eligible for in-home speech therapy through First Steps. First Steps was a huge blessing that year. As Blake approached the three-year mark, First Steps helped our family plan for his continued education and speech growth. Children age out of the in-home program on their third birthday. Our coordinator arranged a meeting with a school in our district, and we visited for a tour.
From the moment we stepped into the school, I knew this would be a good fit for Blake. The warm-hearted coordinator, Ms. C, let him turn the lights off and on (his favorite thing to do at the time) as we did our tour and even gave him her flower pen at the end, which he loved. I noticed the students and staff were a diverse blend, a good representation of our district, which was a big decision-maker in our neighborhood choice.
We discussed logistics. “Will Blake be riding the bus?” Ms. C. asked. Seeing my hesitation, she shared that many kids prefer the bus to parent drop-off. I entered our information and checked yes for transportation.
But as any parent does, I had some worries about Blake’s first day of school. It was a cold February day, and Blake was only three. On his first day for pickup, Blake stood in the front doorway, looking down the dark driveway. His backpack fully covered his tiny shoulders. I heard the slow hum of the bus’s engine and knew it was time.
Blake’s feet planted, and I scooped him up in my arms to carry him to the bus. The bus appeared massive, like a semi-truck compared to my little guy. Its wheels were taller than his head. He clung to me as tears stained his galaxy face mask. I propped him up to the first step and silently prayed for strength for both of us. Ms. T, the bus driver, and Ms. S, the assistant, reassured me that everything would be well.
I closed the door and turned with a smile and a wave. The bus slowly rumbled off. I couldn’t quite see Blake’s face in the window as the windows had fogged up from the heaters. Not seeing him wave bye felt sad.
But as I turned on my own car and prepared to drive away with my newfound free time. I was happy to see a text from Ms. T that Blake had stopped crying as soon as the bus rounded the corner.
Later that day, Ms. E, his afternoon bus driver, called me to touch base and share details for Blake’s return. Everyone at school was wonderful for the rest of Blake’s school year. His lead teacher, Ms. L, assistants, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and psychologist all went above and beyond in welcoming us and involving us in Blake’s growth. Instead of hiding from other kids (thanks Covid years), he grew in confidence and began to seek them out. I didn’t have a single complaint, only gratitude.
As Blake began school again this fall, we were happy to see that his occupational therapist, Ms. E, and three bus drivers remained the same! Ms. T, Ms. S, and Ms. E remarked on how he had grown, all the new sentences he could say, and shared the changes they had noticed about him since the spring semester. Due to where we are on the route, Blake spends a good 45 minutes each way on the bus, and I’m so glad it’s with such incredible women. Whenever we talk about his day, he always tells me about snack, what he’s working on with Ms. G and Ms. E, what stories Ms. P’s class is working on, if he plays outside or in the gym, shows me his craft and often tells how much he likes the bus.
I am thankful for this school system and the countless people pouring into Blake’s life daily. On teacher appreciation day, I always make it a priority to thank each department within the school, as everyone has such a hand in creating the culture that the children are immersed in. As a live-on professional staff, I knew every single person who worked in every building and saw firsthand just how much it takes to make a school function. While never attending K-12 school myself, I likely will have many more “never have I ever” moments ahead of me. Even with Covid still making its rounds, I’m not concerned. I’m so thankful this public school system is here for our son to thrive in.