The blessing of bussing


Janine Gassel

Johnson attended the Riverview Gardens School District (RGSD) kindergarten through 9th grade, and transferred to KSD his sophomore year of high school. 

Aiming his spotlight toward the stage, Rory Johnson observes the velvety-red curtains slide open. Music begins to play, echoing through the theater. Johnson smiles as he watches his friends prance onto stage. The next two hours and 50 minutes are spent pressing buttons on a light board and directing a spotlight to follow each cast member. The drapes are shut once again, and the packed auditorium erupts with clapping and cheering. Joined by cast members and fellow crewmates, Johnson rushes backstage to celebrate. 

Johnson, 2016 KHS graduate, would have never experienced this sense of belonging if he had not been involved in the Riverview Gardens transfer program. Johnson attended the Riverview Gardens School District (RGSD) kindergarten through 9th grade, and transferred to KSD his sophomore year of high school. 

“Once you step foot in Kirkwood, you are a Pioneer.”

— Mike Havener

“Everybody [at KHS] was very welcoming,” Johnson said. “There was some nasty stuff going around on some forums that influenced a lot of people’s choice to bus into Kirkwood.”

At the time, there were Mehlville student and parent-made [online] chat forums discussing the topic of RGSD students transferring to Mehlville. Johnson said the output was overwhelmingly negative and heavily racist. 

“All the crazy parents and their crazy kids were freaking out about how [RGSD] kids would mess up their school,” Johnson said. “Why would I want to go [to Mehlville] if they didn’t even want me there?”

Dr. Mike Havener, KHS principal, believes that everyone who comes to KHS has a place here. Havener discussed how kids coming from RGSD were not treated as a separate student body once they came to KHS, but treated just like any other student.

“I think the key is that no matter where kids come from, they should all be treated the same,” Havener said. “Once you step foot in Kirkwood, you are a Pioneer.”

Johnson had attended RSGD his whole life, so transferring to KHS was out of his comfort zone. However, Johnson said that once given the opportunity, the decision to transfer to KHS was the easiest decision he and his family ever made. 

“Leaving the familiar [environment] I had known my whole life to go to KHS frightened me,” Johnson said. “But support from my family made me confident in the choice.”

“You can’t spot the difference between good or bad if the only thing you know is bad,”

— Rory Johnson

Johnson said that while he attended RGSD, there was a program in place titled “Teach for America,” where the administration would hire newer, younger teachers in order to save money. Johnson said that because the majority of RGSD teachers had minimal experience, classes were taught with no course direction, and teachers had no control over students’ behavior. 

“Kids were real disrespectful in the hallways,” Turhonica Hutton, Johnson’s mother, said. “Cursing and saying inappropriate things even if a parent was there. It was an environment I didn’t want my kid growing up in.” 

Upon arriving at KHS, Johnson said he experienced a “culture shock” due to the drastic change in pace and surroundings. To Johnson, the change that surprised him the most was that students actually paid attention in class, saying it took him a few weeks to get used to the silent classrooms.

“You can’t spot the difference between good or bad if the only thing you know is bad,” Johnson said. “All I’d ever known was Riverview. I didn’t even recognize many of [RGSD’s] struggles until I went over and experienced everything KHS [had to offer.]”

Johnson was involved in KHS’s theater program for the three years he attended KHS, and said this involvement shaped his character. His favorite musical to work on was Mary Poppins during his senior year. 

“My whole three years [at KHS] I was working backstage in all theare projects,” Johnson said. “Even though I wasn’t acting in the plays, this program really drew out my character. Everyone was immediately very welcoming, and whenever I was working on something backstage, it felt like [ home.]”

Fond of KHS, Hutton said she has no critiques of the transfer. Hutton attributes much of Johnson’s success to his time at KHS.

“This program was truly a blessing,” Hutton said. “[KHS] opened my son’s eyes to new experiences, and changed his entire attitude towards school. He really achieved a lot, going places he couldn’t have at RSD.”

“This program was truly a blessing,”

— Turhonica Hutton

 Johnson said he was very disappointed to find out that the final students to take part in this program graduated last year, but is hopeful this encourages RGSD to make adequate improvements to their schools in order to be adequately self-reliant.

“Parents shouldn’t need to send their kids somewhere else because their [school district] doesn’t have the resources to educate,” Johnson said. “[I’m sure] the discontinuation of the program will hurt students. But, I [like] to think optimistically and that [the end of the bussing program] should push [RGSD] to do better.”