Kindergarteners in rural West Virginia must endure a three-hour drive to and from school each day, leaving five-year-olds too exhausted to play.
Among them is five-year-old Kolbie Hale, who gets up at five a.m. every weekday and leaves his home in Waiteville, West Virginia, every day at five:45 a.m. , like a clock.
Her parents take her to her grandmother Tammy Hale’s house, a few miles down the road. There, she waits for the 6:25 a.m. bus to Mountain View Elementary and Middle School, and the trip takes 90 minutes.
He arrives in time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of his companions at 8:25 a.m. The Herald of the Record reported.
The school, located in Mountain View in Union, is just under 20 miles from Kolbie’s home in Waiteville, about a 30-minute drive if you take State Highway 3 West, the most direct route.
But Kolbie is picked up first and then must take a very scenic route to pick up the other kids, including a trip to Peters Mountain. And at the end of the day, she must suffer the same trip in reverse after classes end at 3:25 p.m., meaning she is the last student to be dropped off, around 5 p.m.
He has dinner with his parents Erin and Rick Hale, who just finished work, and goes to bed at 7:30 pm so he can get enough sleep before waking up again at 5 am the next day.
An unbearably long day for a five-year-old that has caused a mix of frustration and anguish for many families, who say bus schedules have only increased over the years with the consolidation of several schools in County Monroe.
Five-year-old Kolbie Hale, carrying a backpack, is seen getting off the school bus after a grueling ride.
Mountain View Middle and Elementary School is located on Mountain View Drive
The blue line on the map shows the most direct route from Waiteville to the last stop at Union at Mountain View Elementary and Middle School
Kolbie’s grandmother, Tammy Hale, told The Register-Herald that the children’s needs should come first.
He warned that an 11 to 12 hour day, five days a week, for ten months a year, for 13 years, is not the best for any child.
“These students have to do this between 10 and 13 years old, depending on whether they start in preschool,” Hale said.
“But from kindergarten to 10th grade, let’s say, there are 11 years doing this, 10 months out of the year, and that adds up to a lot of time.”
The unincorporated community of Waiteville is located in Monroe County, between Craig County, Virginia and Giles County, Virginia.
Until 2009, the area had a post office and, according to a 2020 census, had a population of approximately 12,000.
Greg Hubbard, a longtime Monroe County resident, recalled as a child the agonizing hour and 20-minute bus ride it took each way to get to Union.
He thought things had changed, but when he moved his family from Gap Hills to Waiteville two years ago, he discovered that wasn’t the case.
His daughter Arabella, 15, was going through the same problems.
“I took the bus between 3 and 6 in the morning and most days I didn’t get home until 5:30 in the afternoon, sometimes later.”
“Two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon.”
He added: “I thought it would get better.”
She said the trip became so stressful that in January her daughter enrolled in homeschooling and began taking online classes.
“It has to be too much,” he said, “the bus ride was a deal breaker.”
Although she would no longer be around teenagers her age, she explained, in the end it was a good decision.
Hubbard and a few other families formed a community meeting a year and a half ago at which the board of education and county commission expressed their concerns.
But Hubbard claimed nothing happened. They told me, ‘you’ll see what we can do’ and that’s it. Nothing ever happened.’
He recalled an idea of using smaller buses and vans and splitting routes rather than consolidating everyone in that area of the county into one long trip.
That idea, he said, was rejected.
Five-year-old Kolbie Hale and his parents Erin and Rick walking home with their daughter from the bus stop.
Kolbie’s grandmother, Tammy Hale, meets her granddaughter at the bus stop. Kolbie is the last passenger to get off the bus.
Kolbie’s mother, Erin, looks at her watch while waiting for the school bus to arrive.
Monroe County School Board member Sabrina Stutts said she is aware of the long bus rides children in Waiteville have, but says there is little the county can do.
According to the West Virginia Division of Highways, Stutts said they determined the route buses currently take is the safest, particularly during the winter.
He also explained that one of the roads that may not take that long is not always clear and said it can be treated as a secondary road.
“My understanding is that geographically there’s not much we can do to shorten it,” Stutts said.
Hubbard believes officials should have had a better plan before they began consolidating schools.
“They consolidated all the high schools in our county into one, and instead of putting it in the central part of the county, they put it at the other end of the county,” he argued.
‘It was created then so that children could have a normal day. I mean, I can understand consolidation, but if you’re going to consolidate it, put it in a central location, not completely on one side of the county.’
Until things change, Kolbie will continue his challenging routine. When the bus drops her off at her grandmother’s house around five in the afternoon, her parents pick up an exhausted Kolbie.
For the young man, it is dinner time and then bedtime at 7:30 p.m., which leaves little time for extracurricular activities and little time with family.
Hale believes the long trip is also taking its toll on his grandson.
“Mondays and Tuesdays are usually fine,” he said. “Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are already dragging on.”
Until things change, he said, “they try to keep the weekends quiet.”
“We’re not trying to keep it on schedule,” Hale said. ‘Weekends are for resting.’