Michelle Martin

Wheels on the bus

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

It was a chilly, cloudy damp day when the bus broke down.

It was one in a long chain of chilly, cloudy damp days we had in January, but it was Monday of Catholic Schools Week, and for Teresa’s school, that means a field trip. Specifically, a service-oriented field trip.

This year, the fourth and eighth grades were dispatched to the Feed My Starving Children packing facility in Schaumburg to spend two hours filling bags with vitamin-enriched rice and vegetable blends. Those bags will be shipped to communities in the developing world to help make sure children receive adequate nutrition.

It’s a way people — even children — in the Chicago area can take direct action to help people around the globe. It doesn’t hurt that the kids and adults have fun as they fill, weigh, seal and pack bags to the insistent beat of loud pop music.

It was a great field trip, really. Everyone had a good time, no one got lost or hurt, and the students were on track to make it back to school in time for a late lunch and a couple of afternoon classes.

Until the bus broke down on the side of the Kennedy Expressway, near where the entrance ramp from Harlem Avenue comes in.

It took a moment for the students to notice the bus had pulled over rather than just stopped because of traffic. Then one of the two teachers stood and told everyone to be quiet so the driver could hear the dispatcher on the radio.

I’m not sure what went wrong with the bus, just that the driver and dispatcher agreed that the safe move would be to wait for a different bus to come and pick us up. Whatever it was didn’t stop the driver from keeping the engine running, so we all stayed plenty warm. Warm enough that we had to open a few windows.

When I say it was 45 minutes on a stationary bus on the side of the highway with 37 fourth graders with nothing to do, two teachers and about a dozen parents, it sounds like a nightmare, but in reality, it wasn’t more than a minor inconvenience.

There were a couple of cries of “We’re all going to die!” when the bus was rocked by a passing truck, but they seemed to be made in jest. Teachers had to remind students to keep their voices down a few times, and to remain belted into their seats, but for the most part, the kids stayed put and relatively quiet. Some found scratch paper and pens and pencils so they could doodle or play games like hangman. Some talked. Some tried to nap.

When the second bus came, a state trooper stopped to block traffic in the right lane and parents made a line to create a barrier between the students and traffic. It was the work of less than five minutes to make the transfer and start moving again, this time with a rousing rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus” that lasted almost all the way back to school.

The service field trip was only one of several service projects I observed, visited or wrote about for Catholic Schools Week, and I’m proud of everything our students do to make the world a little bit better. I’m also profoundly grateful for the teachers whose lessons go beyond academics and for all the people in our communities who reach out and help us, from the bus drivers to the police officers who see us safely on our way.




  • family life
  • catholic schools week