St. Paul's bus route a `blessing' for parents in Baltimore suburbs

Western Balto. County, Howard are sites of stops

December 30, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Every school day, driver Mike Greaver pulls out of the campus at St. Paul's Schools in Brooklandville a little after 6 a.m., headed for The Mall in Columbia.

With country music playing on the radio, Greaver drives west on Interstate 695 and I-70, then south on U.S. 29 in Howard County. If traffic isn't too heavy, he stops for breakfast at a fast-food restaurant not far from his first pickup in front of Hecht's department store.

That's where five students board the 14-passenger blue bus. At 6:55 a.m., Greaver heads toward the Golden Triangle Shopping Center in Ellicott City for the second group of riders, and then to Security Square Mall for his last passengers.

Greaver is on a tight schedule. He has to get back on the Beltway by 7:25 a.m. to get the busload of students to the boys' and girls' schools on time.

Since September, Greaver and other members of the maintenance staff have doubled as bus drivers for the morning-only trip to western Baltimore and Howard counties to pick up students for the private schools, which share a campus in northern Baltimore County.

The bus service is new to the campus this year, started at the urging of parents from Howard County who wanted to send their children to the two schools, but found that getting them there was a logistical nightmare.

The county represents a new market for St. Paul's, said George Mitchell Jr., director of admissions and financial aid for St. Paul's School, which has seen applications rise in response to concerns over Howard County public school class sizes.

"The parents are thrilled to have the morning bus service," he said. "Between St. Paul's and St. Paul's School for Girls, we were able to fill the bus."

Students pay $750 a year to be bused, plus $15,590 in tuition.

Before starting the service this year, Mitchell said he worked for six to seven months on the possibility of contracting with a private bus company to serve the St. Paul's campus and other private schools in the area. McDonogh and Park schools also bus students.

"There is a certain comfort level using our own bus and our own driver," Mitchell said. "But if there is enough demand, we may have to contract to run a full-size bus" next year.

Njide Udochi said she was concerned about getting her son, Chi Chi, 12, a seventh-grader, to St. Paul's campus from their home in Ellicott City.

"I'm a working mother, and I needed to figure out a way to get him to school because he really wanted to go to St. Paul's," said Udochi, who works in Baltimore. Her husband, Fred, works in Washington.

She said getting children to and from school is a major problem for families with two working parents in her neighborhood. Options other than bus service - such as carpooling - were becoming too complicated.

Udochi said she talked with Mitchell and convinced him that a bus to Howard County would be a good selling point for the school.

"The bus has been a blessing," Udochi said. "And a big relief for the parents."

The 14 students who ride the bus every day are a quiet group. Some try to catch up on sleep, while others try to squeeze in a little more studying.

Sarah Khademi, 10, and Lilli Khatibi, 10, both fifth-graders at the girls' school, are among the first to board at the mall. They have to get up about 6 a.m. to catch the bus.

"We mostly talk or sleep," Lilli said one morning recently. "Sometimes we study, too."

That's what Mary Kate Franchetti, 15, of Columbia was doing. The 10th-grader was going over notes, getting ready for a review in her SAT prep class.

Her friend, Marissa Flaherty, 15, of Woodstock, said she has gotten to know everybody on the bus since she started riding it in September. And she doesn't mind being on the bus - it gives her a chance to put on her makeup.

Robert Walker, 14, of Woodlawn was studying Spanish. "I like riding the bus with the other students," said the ninth-grader. The big topic of conversation that morning was whether the students would get another snow day soon.

Mitchell said the school is considering other options for the next school year, such as an afternoon bus, or possibly an early and a late afternoon bus for students participating in sports and other school activities.

That pleases Udochi, who said that for parents trying to decide where to send their children to school, "transportation is a big thing."

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