A School Bus from Nowhere: Connecting with “at risk” kids requires crazy and crucial hope


| March-April 2009

I drive a bus filled with juvenile delinquents to a reform school. These kids—“at risk” kids is the polite term—have been so disruptive in their neighborhood schools that the district assigned them to a dreary set of medium-security classrooms out on Marine Drive. This is their last chance to attend school while they’re living at home. Their next stop might be the Mac—the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, in Woodburn, Oregon.

I chose this route because the hours are good and boredom is not a problem. My passengers are teenagers, old enough to have stories of their own and occasionally unmoody enough to spill them. Sad stories. Or, no, the beginnings of good stories, maybe. Stories that I’d like to turn around and play backward, so dad comes home, mom kicks her meth habit, and the cops turn out to be good guys after all.

You’d like to step in. Do something about this. Anybody would.

But I am 50 years older than they are. I don’t like their music and I don’t know an X-Station from a Play Box. It’s hard to understand their language and they don’t get mine. It’s not just the words, but how an elder tries to use them to reach a youngster he’d like to help. They don’t dislike me. We are curiosities to one another, failing to connect.



“I don’t need to read.”

Yes you do. Everybody needs to read.

Michele_4
3/25/2009 6:27:15 AM

There's a book here, and I'd love to read more. Thank you for your caring, sharing and understanding.


Zach_9
3/24/2009 4:28:14 PM

Thank you for sharing. I drive an elementary school bus much like yours, but you would be surprised some of these kids are in elementary school. I struggle with many of the same emotions you mentioned. All of my kids are new to the U.S., and they come fully loaded with a colorful background. Some have good families, some I would guess do not. It is very difficult to discipline them, because most of them do not necesarily want to go home, they'd rather stay on the bus an talk. Just today, I handed out a reward to them all for a great two weeks, and I am slowly watching their respect for me, at least, change. For the other kids on the bus, sometimes they are not so respectful. But it is a process, and at least they can count on some sort of stable moment in their weekday. Thanks again, Zach


Zach_10
3/24/2009 4:27:34 PM

Thank you for sharing. I drive an elementary school bus much like yours, but you would be surprised some of these kids are in elementary school. I struggle with many of the same emotions you mentioned. All of my kids are new to the U.S., and they come fully loaded with a colorful background. Some have good families, some I would guess do not. It is very difficult to discipline them, because most of them do not necesarily want to go home, they'd rather stay on the bus an talk. Just today, I handed out a reward to them all for a great two weeks, and I am slowly watching their respect for me, at least, change. For the other kids on the bus, sometimes they are not so respectful. But it is a process, and at least they can count on some sort of stable moment in their weekday. Thanks again, Zach