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INSIGHTS // A long way home

It's the end of the school day at Starkey Elementary.

Children clutching model dinosaurs and other creations walk home, ride off on bikes or get in their parents' cars.

Many others climb into yellow school buses like Alvin Gordon's.

Gordon waits while 47 children find seats. At 1:57 p.m., the bus rattles off for the 52-minute ride into south St. Petersburg. Some of those children are so tiny that only the hair on their heads peeks over the top of the bus seats. All but two are black.

The Pinellas school district keeps no records on which students have the longest bus ride, but 13.5-mile Route 847, from 9300 86th Ave. N to 18th Avenue S and 45th Street, is one of the longest for desegregation.

The ride makes for a long school day for these children. The first child is picked up at about 6:55 a.m. The last child will get off the bus this day at 2:49 p.m.

The children begin settling themselves. One child draws. A couple begin a clapping game. Still others talk above the din of the engine and the other children.

"Now you know good and well you don't get this loud on the bus going home," Gordon reprimands. "I'm going to cut these lights off and ya'll behave like you normally do."

Gordon passes Tyrone Elementary School and children who are walking home. Tyrone is only one of at least six elementaries closer to home the children will pass. That's one of the ironies of desegregation: 25 years ago, black children were bused past white schools to get to segregated schools; now, black children are bused past schools to desegregate distant schools.

As the bus passes Tyrone, Nygel Houston, 9, falls asleep with his hand inside a baseball glove. He rests against his seven-year-old sister, Yalanda Clark. As the bus turns, she moves and he awakens. The bus halts. They step off.

Still groggy, Nygel heads for home.