NEWARK, AR (KAIT) – Instead of students, the Cedar Ridge School District sent buses to pick up all the teachers.
More than 90 teachers hopped aboard one of two school buses Thursday not to catch a ride, but to actually tour the entire district.
Administrators hoped the trip would make teachers better understand where their students live and how far some of them travel just to get to and from school.
"Many of our students get on the bus between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning, so therefore they do not get home until late in the afternoon," said Superintendent Dr. Ann Webb. "It's a very long day, especially when we're talking about a kindergarten or first grade child."
Dr. Webb said she decided to take all her teachers on a bus ride after hearing how successful the trips have been at other districts. She thought that since her district spans 272 square miles, this might benefit her employees.
"Last year, I said next year we're going to take the bus ride," she said, "and that's going to be our professional development because I want all the teachers to get a snapshot of where our children live and how far it is on the bus."
Every teacher from kindergarten through 12th grade packed onto the buses Thursday and set off on a four-hour trek through the entire school district. They not only got to feel every bump that the students do, but they also saw how troublesome water can be on the rural bus routes.
"[The teachers] got to experience a little water today because there was some water on the roads," Dr. Webb said. "It lets them know that some of our children really can't get to school at different times because when the floods come in the spring, we don't count those children absent because they actually can't get here on those days.
"It just lets the teachers know this is really part of their lives," she added, "and what goes on all the time."
The teachers saw firsthand that some of the bus routes can last longer than an hour. Peggy Warren, a kindergarten teacher who's worked at Cedar Ridge for 50 years, says she now knows why some of her students get to school hungry or tired.
"I have a much better understanding of how my children how tired they must be when they get here," Warren said. "If they have difficulties on the bus, it's hard for little kids to be good for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. It's really different, so I have so much better understanding of the situation."
The long commutes have also made Warren's fellow kindergarten teacher, Terri Ann Cunningham, prepare for students to be hungry, sleepy or even excited. In addition to keeping snacks in her classroom, Cunningham says she makes time to get students active.
"We need that movement time," she said "I'm all about exercise in my classroom. When we get those activities going because they've sat on the bus for so long, it's just so important. It helps their little brains work better."
The bus ride also gave Jennifer Huskey, a recent college graduate and first-time teacher, an introduction to an unfamiliar area.
"When I looked my agenda for today, I was like bus ride, yes! It was very exciting," Huskey said. "I enjoyed it. It was really great."
Dr. Webb said there are no plans to make the bus ride an annual event for the teachers. She said she may try to do it again five years down the road when there might be a few new employees at the district.