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INSIGHTS // A long way home

With the energy that only children can muster at 7 a.m., some kids play a game of handball against the bright peach wall of Tampa Presbyterian Village apartments in West Tampa while waiting for the school bus.

When the bus pulls up for the 30-minute ride to Cannella Elementary in Carrollwood, driver Catherine McHayle _ called "Ms. C" by her young riders _ already has on her stern, no-messing-around look. Just yesterday, she took down several names after a particularly loud and descriptive dissing match between two students:

"At least I don't wear the same underwear every day!"

"At least I have to take a bath and you don't!"

"At least my momma has money in the bank!"

They board McHayle's bus, which is filled mostly with black and Hispanic children in kindergarten through the fifth grade from Presbyterian Village and a nearby public housing complex.

This 10-mile bus ride is by no means the longest for desegregation. Children from the Hunter's Green area in north Hillsborough, most of them white, travel 72 minutes to go just 15 miles to Young Junior High in Tampa. While McHayle makes two stops, the other bus makes 27.

By the time Ms. C pulls onto Dale Mabry today, something silver and shiny is making its way among some kids huddled in the middle rows.

"What are you passing around?"

Silence.

"What are you passing around?"

More silence.

"Pass it up."

Groans. The handcuffs are gone.

Elsewhere on the bus, 11-year-old Shenequia Pressley is a model of good behavior. After all, she is the bus monitor. Most afternoons, the fourth-grader wears a bright orange sash with a shiny badge attached, telling the kids whom the bus driver can't see to behave.

Shenequia says riding the bus is fun, even if she does have to get up at 5 a.m. Her mother has to leave for work at 6. Shenequia goes to a friend's house until it's time to catch the bus.

"I fall out of bed every day," she admits.

The bus was about 10 minutes late this morning, so Shenequia has only 10 minutes to hurry to the cafeteria and gobble some cereal.

"I have to go to class," she says, excusing herself from the table.

Elapsed eating time: 5 minutes.

_ ERIKA DUCKWORTH

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