abby alexander

Stephens Elementary School teacher Abby Alexander takes a selfie with students on the bus. Alexander rode all of the school bus routes this year as part of a challenge.

Dedication to her students and others in the Alexander City Schools system paid off for Stephens Elementary School teacher Abby Alexander.

Alexander finished the school bus challenge first this year, which entailed teachers riding all of the school system’s bus routes. Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford challenged all teachers to participate and the first to finish would get $1,000 from the Alexander City Schools Education Foundation.

Alexander teaches fourth grade reading and has been at Stephens for four years. She decided to take the challenge because she saw it as a good opportunity to get to know her students and their home environments by seeing them in an unstructured place.

“A lot of them have siblings; some of them are only children,” Alexander said. “Some of them live in the city; some of them live outside the city limits. So it was really good to get to know my kids, not just my kids but I saw older students I had before.”

A Reeltown resident, Alexander woke up at 4 a.m. to get to the school bus shop at 5 a.m. to ride the routes. She rode the after-school routes then finished preparing for the next school day at 7 p.m.

“It was a long process,” Alexander said. “I didn’t want to miss the bus like a kid wouldn’t want to miss the bus either.”

It took 11 1/2 days to complete the challenge riding two routes a day. Some routes didn’t stop or start at the bus shop. 

Alexander finished riding all routes in the middle of September. She sat with most of the younger children at the front of the bus. 

“Every time they got on the bus I would say ‘good afternoon’ or ‘good morning’ and after they left I would say, ‘Have a good day,” Alexander said. “The older ones usually didn’t want to talk, so I would say, ‘Hey, how are you? What grade are you in? What are you thinking about doing after graduation?’”

She also got the chance to get high school students to open up to her and had a few rant about their lives to her.

“I don’t have a lot of exposure or time with the older kids,” Alexander said. “It felt really good to know that your presence was what they wanted, just a listening ear.”

Alexander said the biggest thing she learned was where the students came from.

“There are a lot of different walks of life and until you know where your children come from you’ll never be able to teach the whole child,” Alexander said.

She said riding the bus has helped her teaching her students because she realizes she has to teach different backgrounds, such as when she to reads students about a beach and some of them may never have been there. 

Alexander learned what school bus drivers went through on a daily basis. She said she realized many are working as bus drivers for part-time jobs or for the benefits.

“Every bus driver has a different story and a different background as well,” Alexander said. “What they give up to do this is really amazing. People don’t realize what they do and without them kids wouldn’t have a smiling face to greet them or send them off. To me I learned most from the bus drivers.”

Alexander was recognized by the city’s board of education Monday with a big check. She used the $1,000 on a new couch for her place.

“My principal Dr. (Mary) Holloway, she said it’s good for me to buy something that I can see every day to remind me of my accomplishment because a lot of times you get money and you spend it on a bill or something that’s fleeting, and if you buy something concrete, that can remind you every day of what you did,” Alexander said. 

Alexander recommends every teacher participate in the challenge to see what bus drivers go through and see what Alexander City is like.

“When you go to the grocery store you don’t pay attention to children playing outside but if you’re intentionally riding the bus with them and seeing them get on and off, you can learn a lot,” Alexander said.