The key to a pleasant commute

Every May and June hordes of school groups descend on Washington, D.C. Each year, like clockwork, we wonks witness gaggles of tweens and teens take over our commutes. They're marked by a tendency to stand on both sides of the Metro escalator, yell and scream in the Metro tunnels, and cram into the center of the Metro car. They can be a local's worst nightmare. But during my past two commutes, riding the train home yesterday and to Fordham this morning, I witnessed a new kind of school group: the KIPP group.

They appear as a small army of pre-teens in matching t-shirts, standing single-file on the right side of the escalator. Several adults walk alongside various points in the line while one leader holds court at one entry/exit turnstile (leaving the other three or four clear for commuters). He hands out a farecard to each child, who then goes through the gate and returns the card to an adult waiting on the other side. The children continue to the next escalator, remaining in single file as they ride up to the street or down to the train platform. While waiting for everyone to assemble, they line up in rows of 10; once everyone arrives, each child pulls out a chapter book and begins to read. They stay this way until they're instructed to move along. The choreography is impeccable every time.

I wish I'd been close enough to figure out which KIPP school I saw, but I suspect groups from just about any KIPP school would demonstrate the same order, poise, and maturity. We've witnessed the academic miracles happening in KIPP classrooms across the country, but this scene demonstrates everything the test scores can't. KIPP stresses character development in everything these kids do; in return, passersby see students who are quiet, respectful of their surroundings and their leaders, and eager to appreciate new opportunities like riding a giant Metro escalator or heading off to a museum.

To the principal and staff of this KIPP school: kudos. It was a pleasure commuting alongside your students and I hope they enjoyed their trip. I look forward to seeing them back next spring.

Photo by Flickr user arvidbr .

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