The Big Yellow School Bus

by Melannie Svoboda SND on August 24, 2015

This time of the year, kids are returning to school. And where I live that means one thing: big yellow school buses everywhere! Whenever I’m driving and I get behind a school bus, I experience several emotions. The first emotion is frustration—especially if I’m running late. “Darn it!” I say to myself when I spot the bus ahead of me. For I know what the next several miles are going to be: Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. If the bus eventually turns down a side road, I immediately breathe a sigh of relief and hurry on my way.

The second emotion is wonder. I wonder how many school buses there are. (In the U.S. there are about 468,000 school buses.) I wonder how many kids ride the school bus every day. (Over 28.8 million kids in the U.S. alone school bus facing rightwhich is about half of the U.S. student population.) I wonder what the first school buses looked like. (The first school buses were called “kid hacks.” They were horse drawn wagons with benches on each side. The kids entered and exited the “bus” through the rear so as not to startle the horses.) And I wonder why school buses in this country and Canada are painted “school bus yellow.” (Because the color yellow is the most easily visible color at dawn and dusk, times when many kids are going to and from school especially in winter.)

The third emotion I experience when I get behind a school bus is this: gratitude. Immense gratitude. I am grateful that these kids are going to school in the first place and getting an education, for I know how vital and valuable a good education is. I am also grateful that society shows its

A white Mercedes Benz school bus in Germany.

A white Mercedes Benz school bus in Germany.

appreciation for children by surrounding their travel to and from school with all kinds of safety factors: the bright yellow color; flashing amber and red lights; traffic laws regarding stopping for school buses loading and unloading children; emergency exits in the rear, the windows, and the roof of the bus; and drivers who are required to meet strict standards to drive a school bus.

I am grateful too for the demonstrations of love and affection I often witness as I watch the kids getting on the school bus. The bus stops at every driveway where there is a child. And these days an adult is always with the child. In my day (the good old days), we consolidated our school bus stops in our semi-rural area. Sometimes we had to walk several houses down the road to get to the designated bus stop. And no adults were ever with us. I guess times were

A 1912 Studebaker truck with a school bus body.

A 1912 Studebaker truck with a school bus body.

different back then. Sometimes I see parents hugging their children before they board the bus. That’s a visible sign that these parents are entrusting their “treasure” to their educational system, a system which includes not only school buses, but also school buildings, teachers, administrators, and staffs. (As a teacher, I was humbled at times when I realized that the parents were entrusting to me their most valuable possession, their child.)

The fourth emotion I feel when I get behind a school bus is nostalgia. After all, I rode a yellow school bus the first eight years of my education. I enjoyed riding the bus. There was a camaraderie among the riders. I remember in third grade, my little girlfriends envying me because I rode the same bus as Danny Jack, the cutest boy in our class. To this day I can recall some of my bus drivers’ names: Mr. Somrack, Mr. Gus, Mrs. Rowls, and Mr. Todd. One of my happiest memories riding the bus is this: on the last day of school, Mr. Gus drove our school bus to G & L’s Ice Cream Stand and treated us all to ice-cream cones. Though Mr. Gus and my elementary school are both gone now, the ice cream stand (now called Foster’s) still stands. Amazing.

Suggested practice: Every time you see a school bus this week, offer a little prayer for the kids and driver. Or when passing a school, pray for the kids and their teachers.

The song I chose for today is “Joy in the Journey” by Michael Card. The lowly school bus reminds us that life is, indeed, a journey. Though that journey can be difficult at times, it is also filled with joys along the way—like wonder, freedom, and love. And we believe: Jesus, the Light, walks with us every step of the way.

How did you get to and from school as a child? If you rode a school bus, do you have any memories you’d like to share with us?

Do any words or phrases in the song speak to you today?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen August 24, 2015 at 5:27 am

Sr. Melannie,

I walked to grammars school each day which was around the corner from my home. We also walked home for lunch. Good memories of walking to school and back. Good exercise too!

Kathleen

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Kathy August 24, 2015 at 6:27 am

Thanks, Sr. Melanie, for another reflection that brought back memories. I never rode a school bus, in my town everyone walked to school. My children also walked, but that was years ago as they youngest is in college now.
Finally, when I think of school buses, I especially pray for my cousin, who was a school bus driver. Jill was independent and did whatever it took for her family, she drove buses when her kids were small. Sadly she died at a young age (30, I believe) of an unusual blood disease. That was over 20 years ago, but I pause now to remember her laughter and spirited personality.

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Barbara D. August 24, 2015 at 9:13 am

Sister Melanie:

Even before I read your words, I knew where you were going. I have always known what people think when they see the yellow buses – oh great, school’s back in session. That means delays everywhere. I think as you do. Children are so blessed to be going to school to be educated, they are healthy, they have food, etc. We need to focus on the blessings in our lives and be eternally grateful to God. Have a wonderful day. Barbara

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Mary Schneider August 24, 2015 at 9:22 am

Sr Melannie:

First, I very much like your new photo. You look fantastic!
Second, drove a school bus for a few years, and the experience was overall a glorious one. I only had two mis-steps (that I am aware of). One in which I forgot to let a child off after school at his usual stop, and since he was so small I could not see him in the rearview mirror. He did get home okay, just a little late. The second one was on a very snowy morning when I picked up my first student. Further down the highway as I stopped for another child, the bus hit some ice and went into a 360 degree turn. My little passenger said, “Cool, do that again.” My heart pounded all day . Thanks for reminding me of such a fun and wonderful job I had.

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Mary Mitchell August 24, 2015 at 10:04 am

We lived very close to our grade school and high school, so we never experienced riding a school bus.

But we did have a ritual with my mom. As we left for school and went out the back door, my mom would go to the front corner window of our house, lift up our little sheltie dog Jofi, and the two of them would wave to us as we started our day.

Even as an adult, when I was leaving Mom’s house to drive back to my own home 60 miles away, I would look up and there she would be – smiling and waving. She has been gone 10 years now, but that is still how I like to picture her.
Thanks for stirring up that memory, Melannie.

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Colleen August 24, 2015 at 10:07 am

I still have one child riding the big yellow bus:) but this will be her last year; I have a special place in my heart for bus drivers as I see them as the unsung heros of the school system! Aside from the fact that they have to navigate an enormous vehicle with very precious cargo on a tight schedule, they also have to rise at crack of dawn, drive a vehicle with no air conditioning on the hottest of days and a dicey heating system on the coldest (not to mention opening a door every 5 minutes and letting the heat/cold air in depending on the season) they also deal with discipline issues as they arise, bullying, garbage left behind, etc. At my child’s school the teachers receive special recognition, treats and gifts, appreciation lunches and dinners, but bus drivers do their very important job everyday as well and often without that recognition or appreciation! I try to send little gifts or gift cards, and thank you notes when I can because they are so important as is the job they do! Thank you for this remembrance and a renewed way of looking at this very common scene in our day-to-day lives!

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Mary Therese August 24, 2015 at 10:25 am

Thank you Sister Melannie for your reflections today. I live in a “challenged” school district, and not only can they not find substitute teachers, but bus drivers are scarce too. Your reflection reminded me to pray for all bus drivers in the coming days, weeks, and months.

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Chris Keil August 24, 2015 at 10:43 am

I too never rode the school bus. We walked to school in the morning, home for lunch, back to school and back home! We only got to ride the city bus during the winter when it was very cold and snowy and then we’d get a bus pass……….we thought we were so cool!
I didn’t know there was a school where Foster’s used to be!!!! How interesting!
Thanks Sr. Melannie.

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Jean Canatsey August 24, 2015 at 11:19 am

I lived in the very small rural community of Castleton, Indiana, and caught my bus (in the dark) at 6:30am. We were the only Catholic family in the town of approximately 250 so I was alone at the corner. Other than the first day of school, I don’t remember my mother walking to the bus stop with me. I was the first one on the bus and the last one off because I lived the furthest from the nearest Catholic School, Christ the King, which was located in Broad Ripple, a suburb of Indianapolis. The benefit of being first on and last off was getting to sit in the seat behind the driver where the heater blew right on my feet in the winter.
Thanks for reminding to pray for the students when I’m stuck behind a bus. My first reaction is also to say, “Oh, darn!” Lately though, my next reaction is to take a deep breath and say, “Just as…..” It helps to put me in the moment.

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Karen August 24, 2015 at 11:30 am

We were lucky with our bus route – the bus had to pass our house going down to the end of the route, then turn around and pick us up on the way back. So we always had a “lookout” for the bus, and then a mad frenzy to get our coats, hats, books, lunches, and instruments or projects in hand and out to the street in the 5 minutes before it came back. And WOE to us if we missed the bus! It never stopped or even slowed down if we weren’t waiting there, and my mother would give us heck if she had to pile us all in the car and chase the bus to the next stop!

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Kathy OFS August 24, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I walked to St. Peter school and passed a lot of places: our local stores pizza parlour, park, my nana’s home but sadly she had passed so I only saw the house. There were birds,trees ,dogs, cars and a bus. When I was in high school I could take a bus or walk home. Those were fun days much simpler and safer than now.

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Mary Anne August 24, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Thank you Sister Melanie for another wonderful Monday morning reflection. This one is close to my heart as our family lived in a rural area of south east Pennsylvania. Our parish church was administered by Benedictine monks and our parish community (70 families) sacrificed to purchase a school bus to transport the children to Catholic schools in Reading PA. Our bus drivers were mostly fathers of school children or the monks themselves. The bus trip covered up to 50 miles one way every day. The long bus ride gave me time to complete my homework assignment! Thank God for our parents who saw the importance of a Catholic education and to the whole parish to provide the means for us to attend parochial school and for the dedicated IHM Sisters who taught us.

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Jean Canatsey August 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm

My bus ride too covered about 50 miles of farmland and hills.

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Patty August 24, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Dear Sister – Thank you, once again, for a wonderful reflection.

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Sister Jackie Kingsbury CDP/ Texas August 24, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for inviting me to remember my trips to elementary school. At first I walked with my mother (we had no car)- it must have been 45-60 minutes. Then, I rode my bicycle with my younger brother. One day on the way home from school an “escaped” parakett flew onto my shoulder! It scared me at first, but in memory I am over joyed with this connection with MOTHER NATURE

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Tom August 24, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Sadly I missed out on the camaraderie of the school bus, living close enough to walk to grade school and using public transportation for high school at Ignatius.
My interest was in what make of bus would show up on a particular day. I preferred the FLXIBLE TWIN COACH. Your reflection today finally prompted me to research the FLXIBLE name. Its origin was the Flexible Sidecar, which had a patented mounting which allowed both motorcycle and sidecar to lean around curves. Your brother, John, would have been able to duplicate it. The E was dropped to create a registered trademark. One less lifelong mystery solved thanks to Google! The bus was made in Kent, Ohio, and sold worldwide.
Next week I promise to focus on your spiritual message, which is always good.

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Julie August 24, 2015 at 4:30 pm

During grade school and high school I remember getting in the car and my Dad would drive us the one mile to school.
There we would begin our day with Mass and then go to our classrooms. What a wonderful way to be driven and then
to be fed with Christ’s nourishment in the Eucharist…to begin my day! Thank you for the memories!

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Cathy August 24, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Oh my, Sister Melannie, you have a knack for seeing joy and goodness everywhere!
My husband retired in 2013 after 40 years of teaching elementary Physical Education. For 36 of those years he drove a school bus. He left very early, before his own children arose, to ensure his students got safely to school each day. He still drove his bus route even when he took a personal day off, because he had special needs students who didn’t do well with changes in their routines. I know how diligent he was about their safety. Thank for reminding us to pray for bus drivers and their precious cargo.

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Sister Janet August 24, 2015 at 6:01 pm

I grew up in a small VT town and rode the school bus until 3rd grade when I was allowed to walk the mile to school with my two older brothers (big 5th and 6th graders at the time). No adults were with us. I felt so grown up. I now work in an elementary school with preschool children. I still get to ride the yellow school bus when we go on field trips. (I don’t fit very well in the seats now.) I can’t thank the drivers enough for the important task they have of safely carrying our nations’ children to school each day. We teach our children to say thank you to the driver whenever they get off a bus.

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Bridget August 24, 2015 at 8:33 pm

I guess we were on the same frequency this week. I met my now husband on the school bus when I was in the ninth grade, 1972. I also thought how our bus driver stopped at the Dairy Queen on the last day of school for us, such a thrill, I am sure something like this would never happen today. Sometimes as I watch the little ones enter the bus (remembering back) is it harder on the child or the parent, and how much homeword would need to get done that evening. All good stuff
This was very nice, thank you for Sunflower Seed, it is the Highlight of my Monday.
B

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mary August 24, 2015 at 11:06 pm

This reflection brings memories of my dad he was a farmer but drove the school bus to supplement his income but most of all he drove to keep us safe God bless school bus drivers!!! Thank you sister for the video always inspirational

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Fran McCreary August 25, 2015 at 3:09 am

I only took a school bus one year – my 8th grade year which was my final year of grade school. As my family had just moved cross-country and we were staying in a motel until the moving van arrived with our furniture and clothing, my mother decided that we should not miss riding the school bus on the 1st day of school with all the other kids & promptly took us to what would be our bus stop. My sister and I didn’t yet have our new school uniforms & mom wanted us to fit in as much as possible. That very first day the bus broke down & mothers came to rescue the riders, all of us arriving late to that 1st day of school. The rest of that day went downhill from there, but is one I will never forget.

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Susan August 25, 2015 at 7:16 am

I walked to school often in bare feet since I grew up in Hawaii.

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Diane Butler August 26, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for a new perspective on school buses. I experience the same frustration. I remember to leave earlier some school days. I am grateful for the decreased congestion in the summer. In GA they have been rolling on 6 August. I am thrilled to have teachers in my family. School is so important and I will start to pray when I am stuck behind one now for the kids and their drivers!

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