by Steve Laird

Back in 1953 I was 10 years old and in the third grade. Got held back a year in the first grade, I was labeled a slow learner. As I found out some years later, people with Dyslexia have good memories. In reading classes in the first and second grade were Red birds, Blue Birds and Black birds. The nun would give the other kids work to do so the Red birds, the best group, could read their story. We all read the same story. I could hear the Red birds read their story and I would follow along in my reader. I would repeat the same thing with the Blue Birds. Again we all read the same story. When it was the Black Birds turn I would do very well with the reading. I got good enough that I got moved to the Blue Birds. But I only heard the story once so back to the Black Birds I went.

I had a stuttering problem. In the third grade I had Sister Marie Agony. I went to her and asked to go to the lavatory. (I could not figure out why it was called that at school) She told me if I cannot say it without stuttering I did not have to go to lavatory. She had mean eyes. I tried to say I had to go badly, but I started with “But…But…But” and she hit me with a pointer until I wet myself in front of the whole class.

By the end of the third grade I wouldn’t speak, even at home. I would just point. My older sister spoke for me. My mother heard of a school, Springer’s Institute, for kids that are slow learners.

I entered Springer’s Institute in fall of 1956. I should have been in 6th grade. Springer’s was located at 12th and Pendleton, across from St. Paul’s Catholic school in Over the Rhine. In order to get there I would catch the East Price Hill bus and ride to 8th and State. Next was the 32-Elberon and Bond Hill route, which rode thru down town.

On this bus was a group of boys from St. X. They were going to school and must have all been in the choir. I was scared, going to a new school, riding the bus by myself for the first time and being 12, the world looked very big to me. They were on the bus that picked me up at 8th and State. That day when the bus pulled away they sang Que Sera Sera. This set my mind at ease. I remember it so well because my mother loved that song and “What will be will be” was a sign for me that everything would be ok.

One of the boys in the group was Ron Reckers. I met him later in life. He had become a Hamilton county Sheriff. He was a nice guy. They were all nice guys. Not a bully in the bunch. They sang all the way to their stop at 7th and Main where they got off to go to school. The 32 would continue to Pendleton and Reading where I got off for school. It was a wonderful way to start my day.

Once I got into Springer’s I had a homeroom teacher, Sister Ann. The Principal was Sister James, a wonderful lady, she changed my life. Sister Jerome was also staff, a tiny Polynesian person, but they were all Sisters of Charity. I noticed when I got there the first day, there were others with learning disabilities, not sure what kind they were. There was a young man named Danny who was labeled retarded. There were kids with Down’s Syndrome, and a group of 6 girls that worked only with Sister Jerome. There were kids there with Traumatic Brain Injuries, Birth Defects, just a huge number of different abilities and disabilities. Unfortunately the kids with behavioral problems were also sent to Springer’s. Some were bullies. They teased the other kids. I would get involved, got punched around a little, but gave my fair share back. It meant a trip to the office, but I did not get in trouble for defending the underdogs, my best friends. These children that were labeled as broken, loved unconditionally. They would even try to make up with the bullies.

One morning the East Price Hill bus was not running on time. So I walked down Mt. Hope steep hill, crossed Elberon and caught the singing bus early I could hear the singing longer. From then on I walked down to Elberon to catch the Singing Bus and hear the Happy world being created for me.

I went to Springer’s for 2 years. At the end of 2 years I did not stutter any more. I had Reading, Math and Religion. No other classes. No History, or Science. But the speech classes and reading classes were priceless.

When I got out of Springer’s, my mother tried to get me into a Catholic school. I was turned down by all of the Catholic schools on the west side because they do not take retarded children. My mother cried after every denial. I was not retarded, but the label stuck. Because I had gone to Springer’s—which saved my life, taught me to read, not to stutter and know I can learn—I was not welcome.

I went into the 8th grade at Delhi School, where I met new challenges. Going into a public school I had never heard of extra credit. I had never had a class in history, English or science. I was always good at math. Extra credit saved my butt. I passed into the 9th grade and was in the first freshman class in Oak Hills.

What has this taught me? When you are mean spirited to children, a teacher, neighbor, or family member, they remember it their whole life. When I see people who went to Springer’s they avoid me. They do not want to acknowledge they went to the “special school” because they were labeled too. It was not the school or the nuns there, rather the rest of the world, looking down on us for being broken. Who was really the broken ones?

Unfortunately it still is happening today. I know of a young person that was shoved out of a local Catholic school due to their grade scores. This child has an IEP, yet the Principal targeted him at the beginning of the 8th grade and told them that they would be gone by October. This child was NEVER suspended once in 8 years, K-7. They were expelled in beginning of December of the 8th grade. It took the family till February to get him back in school due to holidays and SOP and being labeled. What this did to the child’s self esteem is criminal. I understand it has been done to others since it happened to the first. These youths are our future. The present testing system does not help the children learn or enhance their learning experience. Just talk to any teacher. It is time to take charge of schools and make them a center of learning and growing.

5 thoughts on “The Singing Bus

  1. As an elementary teacher, many years ago, I saw the labeling and my heart could not allow me to continue in that profession . Grateful that you had Sister James come across your path when she did. I agree, you are a wonderful storyteller, and because of that , we all become teachers. Sometimes experience is the toughest teacher, it gives you the Test first and the Lesson afterward. Thank you for being Steve.

  2. Well-crafted story with important insights into why we need to be careful when assigning labels to people — as it’s so hard to prevent them from sticking permanently. Steve’s point about people with dyslexia having good memories is a good example of how people with challenges can compensate — ultimately turning each challenge into a gift.

  3. I agree that you are a great storyteller. It saddens me that it has been proven that those who do not fit in a mold are intelligent, yet they are treated this way. Thank you for sharing.

  4. This in many ways could be considered a sad story. But knowing the Steve of today, it is a great story of growth, both personal and spiritual. It is a story of growing beyond the limitations society puts on us. It is a story of hope and grace.

  5. I have tears in my beer and some anger in my heart about schools though like you I had beautiful as well as bad experiences because of who I was and where I was from. You are a wonderful storyteller.

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