What's in a bus ride?

What’s in a bus ride? This is the time of year when schools like to trumpet the accomplishments of their students. They talk about athletic championships, artistic accomplishments, college lists, academic achievement, and so on and so on. We do these things and we have so much to celebrate this year, however, these victories do not tell the whole story about a student or a school culture. They often tell the story of a student performing in an area of strength under controlled conditions. I like to measure our work in the margins, on the edges, and in those moments when things are not always going well.

Twenty minute ride or six hours?

Twenty minute ride or six hours?

I should preface this story with the open admission that I truly hate bus rides. They bring out the worst in me, I feel trapped, surrounded by germs, and out of control. So, when school started up after spring break and I received an email from one of the bus drivers at a third party transportation service we use I have to admit I expected the worst. Forty kids arriving at Logan Airport from all over the country and the world, exhausted, impatient, ready to get back to school, but waiting for students arriving on delayed flights. Who could blame them for being a little rude, testy or rambunctious?

Our students on an active volcano in the Chilean Andes.

Our students on an active volcano in the Chilean Andes.

Well, after all of my worries I learned that the driver just wanted to let us know how well behaved our students were! They were kind, exactly where they were supposed to be, and they were extremely patient. The driver, who drives for many schools in New Hampshire, said that we have a “great group” of kids. Not only was I incredibly touched that the driver would reach out to us, but I was extremely proud of our students for behaving well even when they figured nobody was watching.

It turns out this was not an isolated event. Ms. Doenmez just returned from a weekend in New York City with her AP European History class and the first thing she told me about was how wonderful our students were throughout the trip. Mr. Ortiz took a group of students on an epic tour of the mountains of Patagonia in March and raved about their resilience and enthusiasm. I traveled more in one week during my recent trip to China than I have ever traveled on one trip in my life! I wish I could say I handled the stresses of travel as well as our students, but I did not. While our students were sightseeing in Beijing I was spending the day in multiple meetings with our partner school, Tsinghua University, and with many of the parents of our Chinese students. I am happy to work all day when I travel, as long as I can look forward to unwinding for an hour or two in a hotel room before going to sleep. Day three in Beijing, however, called for us to take a sleeper train eight hours north to the famous Changbai Mountain region of northeast China. I was heading there to serve as a consultant for a ski academy they are hoping to create in the region.

Whatever romantic feelings I had about what a sleeper train might be like quickly disappeared when we got in line at the Beijing train station. Rushing through a massive line of people carrying a giant ski bag while trying to keep track of our eight students did not help my stress levels. I was fortunate to end up in a four-bed bunk room with three other Dublin travelers and quickly settled into what would be a sleepless night on the train. When we arrived in northern China the next morning I looked forward to a quick shuttle ride to our hotel and then a ski on the beautiful trails around Changbai Mountain.

The sleeper train.

The sleeper train.

I should have known that the trip might be a little longer than anticipated when I was handed a bag of fried chicken and a mug of warm soy milk as I sat down on a large tour bus. Our group heard whispers from the front of the bus that the trip to the hotel would take three hours. I was crushed. Then we heard someone say it was five hours. Finally, the bus driver told everyone it was a six-hour bus ride! I nearly had a total meltdown realizing that we had to retrace all of these steps in just two days to get back to Beijing (these are high class problems I know!) Fortunately, my meltdown stage looks very much like my other states of existence and from what I could tell nobody knew what I was experiencing. I cautiously looked back at our students expecting a revolution of some sort and found them to be frustrated, but patient and understanding. Again, wow. The students gave me strength and we eventually made it to the hotel. The skiing was another two bus rides from the hotel, but that is a story for a different time…

Posing with our new Chinese friends at Changbai Mountain. North Korea is just over the ridge behind us.

Posing with our new Chinese friends at Changbai Mountain. North Korea is just over the ridge behind us.

While our school and our students are not perfect, they are pretty darn awesome and I appreciate how well they handle the stresses that life throws at us from time to time. I also appreciate our faculty and their willingness to give up vacations to travel with our students. We are fortunate that our students inspire us and make these trips so enjoyable for everyone involved.