(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)
Richard Montgomery High School

Opinion: The cost of the late bus

It’s the second day of school. I arrive at my bus stop at 7:02 a.m. Four minutes pass, and my bus doesn’t appear on time. It’s the first week of school, I thought. No need to worry.

Another five minutes pass. It should have been here by now. Dread creeps in. I text my friend Grace, who rides the same bus. She tells me it’s running ten minutes late. She then adds, “Here we go again.” I sigh in exasperation.

This is far from the first time this has happened. Late buses are the worst. My biggest fear is confirmed when I enter the school cafeteria after the late bell rings. I ask for breakfast, explaining that my bus came late. The personnel warns me that after the bell rings, they cannot sell anymore food.

Let’s consider how this affects students on Free and Reduced Meals. Students who receive free breakfast usually don’t have access to nutritious food at home, so if the bus arrives late, they will be left hungry until lunch.

Studies show missing breakfast endangers child development. Researchers have found that eating irregularly or skipping breakfast correlated to worse attention spans, worse memory, and less academic achievement.

“Evidence suggests that breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function related to memory, test grades, and school attendance,” said in the 2005 study by scientists at the University of Florida.

The nutritional value of breakfast cannot be understated. School-provided breakfasts meet healthy nutritional standards set forth by the federal government, and skipping them has been associated with overeating later in the day as a form of compensation.

Washington Post writer Casey Seidenberg wrote, “Four out of five children do not get enough vitamins and minerals from lunch and dinner alone.”

In the case that students have access to food at home, chronically late busses force them to wake up earlier to prepare their breakfast and ensure that they get to school on time.

Students across the nation already don’t get enough sleep due to early school start times and copious amounts of extracurriculars and homework causing us to stay up late. Just as with missing breakfast, losing sleep can lead to lower school performance and unhealthy eating habits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As someone who wakes up at 6 a.m. and leaves home at 6:50 a.m. to catch the bus, I think it’s hardly reasonable to ask students to get up even earlier to eat breakfast, in fear that their bus will prevent them from doing so otherwise.

In my case, my bus schedule never formally changed and my bus stop was the last one on that particular route. My friends in magnet programs have to get up as early 5:30 a.m. to get ready for school.

As of now, Montgomery County Public Schools requires that busses arrive to high school 15 minutes before the late bell rings. Even though I’m supposed to be on the bus at 7:06 a.m., I waited up until 7:20 a.m. many times last year. Whether I got breakfast was hit-or-miss.

I’m sure MCPS is not the only school system that has experienced this issue. The School Breakfast Program, a nationwide meal program, serves millions of students. All students, regardless of income, are able to receive food provided by the school.

The key to the problem is greater oversight on the part of the school district’s transportation department. Low-income students should not be forced to go hungry because bus drivers aren’t trained to watch the clock.