To school in no time: how distance-learning may have resolved an equity issue at Potomac


Tess Weinreich

Empty buses line the senior lot.

Tess Weinreich, Executive Editor


A Potomac bus in the back lot with a “bus empty sign” in the window


In the greater DMV area, The Potomac School is known for its extensive bussing system –and for good reason. The school claims the largest bussing fleet of any independent school on the Atlantic seaboard. 

With their distinctive blue stripe, Potomac busses can be seen shuttling kids to and from stops as far as Potomac, Reston, Oakton, Marlow Heights, Capital Hill, and Silver Spring. 

The bussing system is a point of pride for the administration, as it makes a Potomac education accessible to students from a wider geographical region. The resulting long commutes, however, can take a toll on students who, despite waking up earlier and arriving home later than their peers, are held to the same academic, athletic, and social expectations.

For senior Khaya Yankey, getting to school from her home in Accokeek, Maryland meant waking up more than three hours before the first bell.

“Before quarantine I would usually get up around 4:50 a.m. I had to leave the house by 6:00 a.m. We would usually get coffee and then my bus leaves at 6:50 a.m. So it takes around 40 minutes just to get to my bus stop and from there the bus ride was about another hour,” said Khaya

The impact of a long commute on students’ day to day experience goes beyond an earlier wake-up. Freshman Sonja Meyers’ commute to school from Farmville, VA, made the already challenging transition into high school even more complicated.

“We spend around 2 1/2 hours on the road everyday. It’s been a transition. My old school was closer to my house so I’d get around an hour more of sleep every night. It’s made it harder to focus in my classes this year mostly because I’m so tired,” said Sonja.

A long drive book-ending a school day can be an additional source of stress for students.

“Especially as a new driver, driving was draining. In the mornings I have to really be ‘on,'” said junior Cole Morehouse whose commute is 40-50 minutes each way.

Even for students in the passengers seat, a long commute was a source of stress.

“After a school day you just want to relax and maybe get some homework done. When you have to ride in the car for so long you really just can’t do that,” said Sonja.

“Things are better now that I drive, but my bus ride used to be around 40-50 minutes in the morning. It’s always very loud and Georgetown Pike is a winding road so you could never really get work done,” said Cole.

In light of the coronavirus and Potomac’s institution of distance-learning measures, regardless of where a student lives, a daily commute is as simple as moving from bed to a desk. Potomac’s recent shift to distance-learning has eliminated commutes entirely, drastically altering day to day life of students who live far from school. 

“I’m getting more than two hours of extra sleep. Now I can wake up at 8:00 and still be ready for my morning classes. It’s been a huge difference,” said Cole.

Although they’ve been sleeping in, for students with long commutes this lifestyle change has also been a wake-up call. 

“I’m only now realizing that it made it a lot harder for me to focus in class. I was always so tired. Coffee helped but for the most part it just made me feel alert. It’s like I was technically awake but it was still hard to pay attention. Like someone was holding my eyes open,” said Khaya.

“Another thing, I’m more even tempered. I used to be really irritable all the time. Little stuff would bother me and I never knew why stupid stuff would get on my nerves. I’m realizing all of that was because I was so exhausted,” she continued.

“Just waking up so early made it impossible to focus. In my morning classes my teachers would sometimes ask if I was okay or comment that I seemed tired,” said Sonja. 

“It’s been a lot easier now that classes are online. I’m not tired at all going into the morning,” she said. 

Besides making mornings more bearable, without long drives each day students have been able to focus on the people they love.

“Me and my brother don’t go to the same school. During the week we don’t normally get to spend time together unless we’re doing homework. Now we’ve been hanging out a lot more, which is nice since I’m a senior and I’m leaving next year,” said senior Miira Efrem for whom driving to school normally takes an hour each way.

With more time and energy, students relieved of a commute have also been pursuing personal interests. 

“I can devote a lot more time to my architecture project. I’ve taken architecture every semester since junior year. I love working on my independent project and doing my art even though it’s from home,” said Khaya.

At Potomac, student commutes are central to the discussion of equity. A global pandemic inevitably has an equalizing effect; a virus doesn’t discriminate based on where you live. The fact that all students have the same amount of time to complete their work is one of the rare silver linings to Potomac’s closure that we should all appreciate.