SNOWSHOE � Tommy Evans stood atop the 4,848-foot mountain at
6:20 a.m., waiting for the bus to arrive, wearing a special badge so nobody
would lose him on the way to school.
He clutched his father�s hand. Wind sailed through the pine
boughs. Their dog, Jake, sniffed a trash can.
Tommy is learning the hard truth about rural education at an
early age. He�s 4 years old. He attended preschool at the elementary school in
Marlinton. He starts kindergarten Monday.
He travels 1 hour and 20 minutes each way to and from school.
He rides two buses, transferring at Slatyfork. He leaves at 6:30, returns home
at 4:40 in the afternoon.
�It�s hard on him, hard on any kid,� said Tommy�s father, Tom
Evans, who works in the Snowshoe bike shop.
Tommy�s mother, Joan, joined them at the top of the mountain.
She put her arm around Tommy�s shoulder, made sure he had gone to the bathroom.
Tommy hadn�t eaten breakfast. It was too early. He wasn�t
�When we came here we didn�t have Tommy,� Tom Evans
didn�t realize what was involved. If and when we move from this mountain, it
will be because of the long bus rides.�
A strobe light pierced the fog. A yellow bus rumbled up the
Tommy climbed on, slumped into his seat, waved out the window.
His father and mother waved back, blew him kisses, as the bus coasted down the
mountain, Tommy already fast asleep.
�The Snowshoe kids are so tired�
Parents in northern Pocahontas County want a new school. They
want a community school where their kids could ride their bikes and study
forests, streams and wildlife.
Intrawest, the company that owns Snowshoe Mountain Resort,
offered to donate land for the new school. Snowshoe officials said they
couldn�t recruit employees with children because of long bus rides.
Volunteers got in line. They invited nearby Randolph County
children to come to the school. Construction money would come from the state
School Building Authority.
The proposed 90-student school didn�t meet the SBA�s �economies
of scale� guidelines, which require new schools to house at least 300 students.
But SBA officials said they would consider the school because it would promote
economic development and serve children from two counties.
�I can�t think of a better way to serve kids than to keep them
close to home,� said SBA Executive Director Clacy Williams last year.
But the school plans fizzled. Randolph County didn�t want to
kids means fewer dollars.
So, for now, and perhaps for a lifetime, Pocahontas County
children must endure long school bus rides. That�s all they�ll know.
�When they leave it�s dark. When they get home, it�s dark,�
Regina must put her children to bed early, about 7 p.m. She
picks out their clothes the night before. She dresses them each morning while
they�re still sleeping. She sometimes slips them a snack to eat on the bus.
�It�s such a long day,� said Erlwine, who works in sales at