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Counting bolts: Tommy's long ride


SNOWSHOE ? Tommy Evans stood atop the 4,848-foot mountain at

6:20 a.m., waiting for the bus to arrive, wearing a special badge so nobody

would lose him on the way to school.



He clutched his father?s hand. Wind sailed through the pine

boughs. Their dog, Jake, sniffed a trash can.



Tommy is learning the hard truth about rural education at an

early age. He?s 4 years old. He attended preschool at the elementary school in

Marlinton. He starts kindergarten Monday.



He travels 1 hour and 20 minutes each way to and from school.

He rides two buses, transferring at Slatyfork. He leaves at 6:30, returns home

at 4:40 in the afternoon.



?It?s hard on him, hard on any kid,? said Tommy?s father, Tom

Evans, who works in the Snowshoe bike shop.



Tommy?s mother, Joan, joined them at the top of the mountain.

She put her arm around Tommy?s shoulder, made sure he had gone to the bathroom.




Tommy hadn?t eaten breakfast. It was too early. He wasn?t

hungry yet.



?When we came here we didn?t have Tommy,? Tom Evans

  • aid.
  • ?We

    didn?t realize what was involved. If and when we move from this mountain, it

    will be because of the long bus rides.?



    A strobe light pierced the fog. A yellow bus rumbled up the




    Tommy climbed on, slumped into his seat, waved out the window.

    His father and mother waved back, blew him kisses, as the bus coasted down the

    mountain, Tommy already fast asleep.



    ?The Snowshoe kids are so tired?



    Parents in northern Pocahontas County want a new school. They

    want a community school where their kids could ride their bikes and study

    forests, streams and wildlife.



    Intrawest, the company that owns Snowshoe Mountain Resort,

    offered to donate land for the new school. Snowshoe officials said they

    couldn?t recruit employees with children because of long bus rides.



    Volunteers got in line. They invited nearby Randolph County

    children to come to the school. Construction money would come from the state

    School Building Authority.



    The proposed 90-student school didn?t meet the SBA?s ?economies

    of scale? guidelines, which require new schools to house at least 300 students.

    But SBA officials said they would consider the school because it would promote

    economic development and serve children from two counties.



    ?I can?t think of a better way to serve kids than to keep them

    close to home,? said SBA Executive Director Clacy Williams last year.




    But the school plans fizzled. Randolph County didn?t want to

  • end its kids. School systems receive state money based on enrollment. Fewer
  • kids means fewer dollars.



    So, for now, and perhaps for a lifetime, Pocahontas County

    children must endure long school bus rides. That?s all they?ll know.



    ?When they leave it?s dark. When they get home, it?s dark,?

  • aid Regina Erlwine, whose 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter ride the bus
  • to Marlinton.



    Regina must put her children to bed early, about 7 p.m. She

    picks out their clothes the night before. She dresses them each morning while

    they?re still sleeping. She sometimes slips them a snack to eat on the bus.




    ?It?s such a long day,? said Erlwine, who works in sales at

    Snowshoe. ?They don?t want to get up. They?re tired all the time.?



    Becki Furbee?s 6-year-old son, Max, will enter the first grade

    at Marlinton Elementary Monday. Last year, she sometimes received notes from

    Max?s teacher.



    Max seems sleepy, the notes

  • aid.


    ?The teachers always tell us the Snowshoe kids are so tired. No

    wonder,? Furbee

  • aid.
  • ?The little ones say, ?I don?t want to go to school

    tomorrow.? When I was young I loved school.?



    Counting bolts



    Tommy Evans dashed through the spring rain and hopped into his

    bus for the ride home. He sat in the front seat behind the driver.



    The little children always sit near the front, the middle

  • chool students in the middle, and high school students, if they don?t drive to
  • chool, in the back.


    Some children open books and try to read or tackle homework,

    but it?s difficult on the bumpy, twisting ride. So boys play hand-held video

    games, girls practice putting on lipstick.



    ?If you ride this two times a day, five days a week, man, it

    gets old real fast,? said Seth Morgan, 8, a second-grader at Marlinton

    Elementary. ?As soon as I get home, I eat, drink, do my homework, go to bed. I

    don?t have time for anything else.?



    Sometimes children urinate in their pants on the bus. Sometimes

    they vomit.



    ?If they start to get sick, we know to get the trash can,? Seth

  • aid.


    Around him, children used their fingers to scribble messages on

    fogged windows. They typed ?7734? into a calculator, then flipped it upside

    down to spell ?hell.?



    The older children played ?truth or dare,? the younger

    ones, ?bubble gum, bubble gum, in a dish.? There were games of ?mercy?

    and ?scissors, paper, rock.?



    ?The first person to bleed is out,? said Hanna Giddings, 12, a

  • ixth-grader at Marlinton Middle.


    They also counted bolts.



    They counted the bolts along a seam that seals two sections of

    the bus roof.



    ?Everyone on the bus can tell you there are 46 bolts,? said

    Alexa Furbee, 13, Becki Furbee?s daughter, who has been on the same grueling

    bus run since kindergarten.



    The bus splashed through Slatyfork, pulled up at a mobile home

    park. A mother drove up on a lawn tractor to pick up her daughter, rain soaking

    her clothes.



    The bus barreled up Snowshoe Mountain, past the chairlifts and

  • ki slopes and mountain lodge. Tommy?s mother was waiting for him. He looked
  • out the window and smiled.



    ?Hey, hey, I?m almost home,? he

  • aid.


    He was asked how long he rides the bus each day.



    ?It takes about eight hours,? he

  • aid.


    To contact staff writers Eric Eyre and Scott Finn, use e-

    mail or call 357-4323.




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