The 1st Conversation

Towards the end of October I was waiting for the bus home after a long day at work when I noticed that there was a 7th grader standing next to me.

“Hi! How was your day?” I began.

“Oh, hi. It was alright, I guess,” he responded.

But instead of running away, as a 6th grader had the week before, we began to chat. As we waited for the bus to pull up I heard about C’s elective class and what he thought of the football team (he had a somewhat perfunctory opinion, which is fair because the football team is terrible — they won one game thanks to a forfeit). Once the bus arrived we boarded and he decided to sit just behind me so we kept chatting. I try not to impose on students when riding the bus. I tend to follow their cues for whether or not they want to sit near me or talk to me at all. But talk we did. He was at his most animated when he was filling me in on his Halloween-candy-selling scheme. Using the candy he (and maybe his little brother) collected, he was going to sell the candy in individual pieces at school for $1 each. He estimated that he would be raking in the dough and, with Halloween right around the corner, was looking forward to the cash he would earn. I found this quite entrepreneurial. 7th grade is on the cusp of so many things. No longer the babies of 6th grade but not yet the self-assured, confident 8th graders. He was finding a way to bridge a childhood celebration of high fructose corn syrup and Disney characters into a small enterprise befitting the young adult he is growing into.

As the ride continued, we talked about commuting to school. This is the first year that Boston Public Schools (BPS) is having middle school students ride the MBTA, or the T, to and from school instead of riding a school bus. The only students who get school buses qualify for them because they have IEPs or 504s that guarantee door-to-door rides to school (aka students with physical and/or mental challenges that are protected under federal law: I have a few students who get door-to-door because of everything ranging from a heart condition to autism; of the roughly 250 middle schoolers that my program serves about 5 qualify for buses).

“How far do you ride this?” C asked me.

“Oh, pretty far down. How long is your commute to school?” I asked.

“Long…” He rides the bus we were on to its terminus and then boards another bus. He wakes up at 5:00 am in order to get to school by 7:20. I then felt incredibly foolish — I get off the bus after a quick fifteen minutes. Why had I said that it was pretty far? Here I was, trying to connect with a student at my school and I looked like the privileged little baby who thinks a short ride is far. With a dollop of perspective delivered by C I tried to roll with the punches.

“Yeah I really don’t have that far to go. Is it hard going that far?” I attempted.

Yet he seemed nonplussed by the whole situation. This lesson brought to you by the T and the wisdom of 7th graders.

[Final note: I should have started this a while ago so don’t hold me liable for exact quotes. This is how I remember it.]

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