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District may bring back middle school activity buses

Middle school students who stay after school could have a new ride home in the near future.

The District 196 School Board expressed support at a Monday night workshop for the idea of restoring after-school activity buses at least one or two days a week. The buses were cut several years ago as part of a larger package of district budget cuts.

Board member Mike Roseen had asked district administrators to look into the possibility of restoring the buses after hearing requests from middle school principals.

"They're really asking for it," he said. "I think it's legitimate. They don't have a way to keep kids after school."

Rosemount Middle School principal Mary Thompson is enthusiastic about the idea of restoring at least some activity bus service. RMS offers several after-school activities, from a chess club to a triathlon club to theater productions. Those activities provide some adult supervision at a time when students might otherwise be on their own. It also helps create connections between students and their school, Thompson said.

"Our philosophy at Rosemount Middle School is (the time from) 3 to 5 is just as important as 8 to 3," she said. "In my mind, we don't have as many students (after school) as we used to."

On a typical day, RMS might have about 200 or so students staying after school. Without activity buses, those students all need to find their own way home.

According to secondary education director Mark Parr, adding after-school buses one day a week at each of the district's middle schools would cost an estimated $76,000.

The early-evening activity buses can be used for students who participate in sports and activities, but also for students who stay after school for academic reasons. Teachers sometimes ask a struggling student to stay late to get some extra help, and there are other academic programs for students who are having a hard time keeping up.

Parr said that kind of extra help is important as the district starts to ask more from middle schools.

Eliminating the activity buses is "almost like taking a tool out of their tool chest," board member Art Coulson said Monday.

There is no formal plan yet for reintroducing the buses, but from their discussion Monday board members appeared to favor bringing back service two nights per week. Parr said Tuesday that after getting support from the board he will bring the idea back to principals to get their thoughts on implementation.

"I'd say it's a pretty good investment," board chair Rob Duchscher said.