Educational Fight or Flight
A short school bus idles in Larry Goshorn's rain-slicked driveway. It's 5:45 in the morning. The hard angles of Cody, Nebraska—the abandoned grain elevator, the belfry at the Methodist church, the water tower—have just begun to reveal themselves in the glimmer of dawn. A light flickers on above the back door of his small, white house, and Goshorn, a 1974 graduate of Cody-Kilgore High School, lumbers out. Come summer, when the students cut loose and the schedule slows down, he'll move back to his ranch in the hills where the springs used to boil up several feet out of the ground. Until then, he'll stay here, across the street from the high school and the bus barn, always nearby when the new driver quits, or another bus breaks down, or the new superintendent decides another field trip is in order. He's wearing a flannel jacket and a camouflage hat, ready for the long and often unpredictable drive ahead.
"This will be my 17th year driving for Cody-Kilgore," Goshorn says. "You can't find bus drivers out here very easily. Once you find someone and send them to all the classes and stuff—they last about three trips and they quit. Some think they're cut out for it, but they're not."
By it, he means the isolation. He means a county three times the size of Delaware inhabited by fewer than 6,000 people. The school district alone, despite a student population of fewer than 200, envelopes 553 square miles of grass and sand and sky, spanning two time zones and three area codes. The buses of Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools travel a combined 312 miles every day along quiet highways and country roads. And it's not just bus drivers who are hard to come by. Recruiting and retaining staff, convincing administrators to custodians to special-education teachers to come to Cody-Kilgore and to stay, is difficult across the board, as it is for most small schools in rural America. It's the lack of amenities. It's the loneliness. It's the feeling of being forgotten by a system that so often seems to prioritize the tribulations of the city. It's the constant threat of closure, of nonexistence.