I Rode the ‘Short Bus’

One of the “jokes” I despise the most is using the phrase “riding the short bus” to call someone “stupid.”

Many people don’t realize how important this separate school bus is. It’s often used to transport people with special needs to school. The service provides safety, as some people need extra assistance getting on a bus or require close supervision. These buses often stop right at its riders’ houses and gets them directly to a school entrance. They have a much quieter environment, which many people need, and an aide is usually there to assist if needed.

Christina and Emily
Christina and Emily

My sister Emily, who has Angelman syndrome, always rode that bus, and I never used to think anything of it. 

When I started at one of the public high schools, my sister was a senior there. I walked a couple blocks in the morning to wait for my bus, no matter the weather. I live in Wisconsin, so that is no laughing matter. Every morning at 6:55, I’d climb onto the crowded old bus and truck off to school.  

Come January, we were all miserable and cold every morning, no matter how bundled up we were. That was when the driver of Emily’s school bus offered to pick me up too. The driver got the request approved. I agreed to it, excited to no longer wait out in the cold.

That was how I, a “typical” high schooler, began riding the “short bus” every morning for six months.

My sister was so excited. Throughout that year, I’d begun every day by visiting her special education classroom before class, and now we got to ride the bus together. It was a dream come true. 

It was in this way that I got a glimpse of my sister’s world. Only a few kids rode that bus, and it was usually quiet. Sometimes one boy with autism would excitedly lecture me about the Major League Baseball statistics he had memorized. The aide and the bus driver and I would chat. My sister would cuddle up next to me.

I loved visiting my sister’s classroom. It was her chaotic, loud, fun world. There were kids of varying abilities. It was there that I saw amazing friendships, both patience and frustration, unconditional love and more. To some, this environment would be overwhelming. To me, it was home.  

I switched to a smaller high school the next year, which was better socially for me, and Emily graduated that June and moved onto the school district’s transitional program. My time visiting her classroom was over, but I still look fondly back on it, even seven years later. I was able to observe other special education classrooms this past year, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed interacting with these exceptional students. 

The bus that takes people with special needs to school should never be made into a joke. My sister rode the “short bus” for her entire academic career. And, for six months in 2009, I had the honor of joining her.

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