For Some Arlington Students, Daily Bus Ride Starts Early


(Wednesday, March 14, 2007 5:40 AM EDT)

Think of a full school bus, and laughing, chatty students may leap to mind.

That image might be true of an afternoon bus, but sleep and silence are much more likely on the first bus of the day.

The first Arlington Public Schools' bus of the day rolls out of the transportation lot at the Arlington Trades Center on Arlington Mill Drive at 6:15 a.m. and starts picking students up at 6:35 a.m.

The students are all pretty quiet, said Alfonso “Al” Medley, the bus driver who is behind the wheel during the first bus ride of the day.

The bus leaves earlier than the other buses because it collects students from North Arlington and crosses school boundaries into South Arlington, so students can participate in Gunston Middle School's Spanish-immersion program.

“I just sit here, and sometimes fall asleep,” said sixth-grader Kyle Cornich, who said he gets up at 5:45 a.m. to be ready for the bus.

Although it can be an annoyance for the students to get up so early, most do not mind it too much, since it allows them to participate in the immersion program.

“It'd be better if I didn't have to get up early, but you get used to it after a while,” said eighth-grader Jeff Paddock.

Medley used to drive vehicles for the U.S. Army, so driving school buses was a natural fit. He wakes up even earlier than the students - at 4:45 a.m. - and usually makes 16 stops, picking up 26 students, on his early-morning route.

“I really enjoy this route,” he said. “It's a peaceful time just to think, early in the morning.”

Medley is one of more than 100 bus drivers, some of whom come in as early as 5 a.m. to beat traffic, who drive the 128 buses in the Arlington Public Schools fleet.

Drivers start their routes at the stop farthest from their destination school and arrive about 15 minutes before the first bell.

School officials say they have not received negative feedback about the early bus runs.

“We don't really get complaints,” said operations manager Kathryn Carter. “When parents decide to have their children go out of their school boundaries, they understand.”

Overall, Arlington school transportation management is pleased with the day-to-day operations of all the bus routes.

“We're happy with the way we handle runs, not just the early ones, but all of them,” said Clarence Stukes, the school system's assistant superintendent of facilities.

Although a 6:35 a.m. pick-up might make some people cringe, Fairfax County's first bus of the day is even earlier. Leaving the lot at 5:25 a.m., the first bus pick-up is at 5:42 a.m. in the northern part of the county.

“There are some complaints, understandably,” said Linda Farbry, director of transportation services for Fairfax County Public Schools. “But based on our limited resources, this is the best we can do.”

These students are among those who take the first school bus ride of each morning in Arlington. The first stop is at 6:35 a.m.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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