Do long bus rides im­pact learn­ing?

The Amherst News - - COMMUNITY -

To the editor, Septem­ber is upon us once more and for most five-year-olds (and some fours) it is a time of great ex­cite­ment as they go to school for the first time.

This year, the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem is start­ing the school year with many changes - no au­thor­i­ta­tive pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the sys­tem with the demise of school boards, prin­ci­pals classed as man­agers not teach­ers, and, in my area, a large, nearly new school build­ing deemed un­safe for hold­ing classes caus­ing stu­dents to be trans­ported else­where for the time be­ing.

One thing that has not changed is the method by which most chil­dren get to school....by bus. Since the time of the great con­sol­i­da­tion of ru­ral schools in the late 1950s the bus has played an im­por­tant part in ed­u­ca­tion. Strange as it may seem, not a lot of thought has gone into how bus­ing af­fects the learn­ing abil­ity of small chil­dren. It is not some­thing you read about in the myr­iad stud­ies and re­ports that have been pre­sented to gov­ern­ment and re­leased to the pub­lic in re­cent years.

In Oc­to­ber 2014, a re­port en­ti­tled “Dis­rupt­ing the Sta­tus Quo: Nova Sco­tians De­mand a Bet­ter Fu­ture for Ev­ery Stu­dent” was re­leased which on page 51 men­tions the fact that phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity helps learn­ing and states: “...we also rec­og­nize the unique roles that schools play in build­ing aware­ness about healthy liv­ing through ....... en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to walk or bike to school, ...” I found that a bit of a laugh when the depart­ment was, and is, con­tin­u­ing to close com­mu­nity based schools in ru­ral ar­eas and neigh­bour­hood schools in towns in­creas­ing the use of buses.

An Ac­tion Plan for Ed­u­ca­tion called “The 3 Rs: Re­new Re­fo­cus Re­build” was re­leased in 2015. Again, no men­tion of the time chil­dren spend on school buses. Phys­i­cal health was re­ferred to on page 31 where it is stated that “phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and nu­tri­tion have al­ways been cor­ner­stones of good health...” and say “To sup­port stu­dent health and well­ness, we will...cre­ate a frame­work to in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity through­out the school day...”

The lat­est re­port “Rais­ing the Bar” (2018), com­monly known as the “Glaze re­port”, is all about ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture, or­ga­ni­za­tion and man­age­ment. In the in­tro­duc­tion, Ms. Glaze imag­ines sit­ting in a class­room of pri­mary stu­dents on the first day of school. She won­ders, “How can we help them thrive and suc­ceed dur­ing their ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney?” I would sug­gest we first en­sure these chil­dren ar­rive at school rested, not hun­gry and with dry bot­toms. This is dif­fi­cult when many five-year-olds spend up to an hour (and in­creas­ingly be­yond due to con­tin­ued school clo­sures) on a bus to get to school. In this re­port the word ‘trans­porta­tion’ is found on page 4 un­der ‘ar­eas of ad­min­is­tra­tion and op­er­a­tions’ as part of the ‘four ar­eas of fo­cus’, on page 5 as some­thing school boards must pro­vide, page 35 un­der rec­om­men­da­tion 13 in re­gards to ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, and on page 39 un­der rec­om­men­da­tion 20 re­fer­ring to the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion & In­fra­struc­ture Re­newal. On page 41 Ms. Glaze com­ments, “...it was im­por­tant to see and hear the pas­sion of the pre­sen­ters as they made a strong case for a gov­er­nance struc­ture that puts stu­dents first”. Any gov­er­nance struc­ture that submits five-year-olds to up to (and over) two hours on a school bus daily is not putting stu­dents first.

In Jan­uary 2015, the At­lantic In­sti­tute for Market Stud­ies (AIMS) pro­duced a re­port en­ti­tled “Ed­u­ca­tion on Wheels: Seiz­ing Cost and En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency Op­por­tu­ni­ties in Stu­dent Trans­porta­tion” which, as stated, is about cost and ef­fi­ciency, con­tains some in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tions in­clud­ing this on page 6: “Nova Sco­tia’s Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, has urged pol­icy-mak­ers to look at the im­pact of school con­sol­i­da­tion and bus­ing on the health of chil­dren and youth.”

As the school year be­gins, the ‘Big Yel­low Bus’ will be stop­ping for young chil­dren all over Nova Sco­tia. It would be a good thing if our new and im­proved Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and Early Child­hood De­vel­op­ment would look at a ba­sic, down to earth is­sue - the ef­fect of pro­longed bus time on the learn­ing abil­ity of young chil­dren.

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