Nothing uniform about this school

Even before we left Decatur, we knew one of the most interesting experiences for Declan would be his new school. Regardless of where he went, we knew there would be a uniform involved that had nothing to do with the football jerseys he wears every day. Marilynn really wanted to get him into Lagan College, Northern Ireland’s first integrated school.

I could digress into a long history of Ireland and religion, but that’s the topic for another post. It’s enough to say that integrated in Ireland means both Catholic and Protestant, not the (literal) black and white issues we Southerners have been dealing with since Reconstruction.

The school’s motto is “Ut Sint Unum,” Latin for “that all may be one.” It was founded in 1981 as a beacon of hope against the stark backdrop of the Troubles. The school is one of the most oversubscribed in the North, despite its location a fair way from the city centre.

So we were very fortunate that a place opened up for Declan at Lagan, which has 1,100 students over seven grades. The grade system is very different from ours, and I still can’t get my  head around it. But instead of seventh grade, Declan is now in Year 9.

He’s having a blast so far, from wearing the sporty blazer and tie to figuring out (and occasionally screwing up) the bus schedule. OK, that last one was mostly the fault of the local transportation service, although we are to blame for a few of the subsequent ones.

For schools that draw students from a relatively small area, you may see one of those 15-passenger vans with a school name on it traveling the Malone Road. But many students, like Declan, ride on regular buses that have School Bus #whatever in the destination header, much like a MARTA bus will say “Clairmont Road.” They pick up at regular bus stops, not specific spots for schoolchildren. Declan rides School Bus 1, a double-decker that goes specifically to Lagan—but just once a day. Miss it, and it’s a 10 pound taxi ride for you.

During the school tour on Thursday, the welfare officer spent 45-plus minutes with us, including having a lengthy conversation with someone from the transit authority to figure out the closest stop to us, which turned out to be a fair walk and smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood.

Declan and I arrived early on Friday to the designated destination, only to be told by the crossing guard for two other schools that he’d never seen an Ulster bus down the street in his four years as a guard. We waited well past the appointed time before I called the cab company, put Declan in the back and gave him a tenner for the driver. He made it home OK that day, and we determined to find a better (and cheaper) bus stop on Monday.

This specific stop was much closer to the flat, but the woman from the transportation authority had no idea whether the bus would actually stop. I could see three crazy Americans standing in the bus lane on the Malone Road trying to stop a double-decker bus through frantic waving and positive attitudes. Yeah, right.

But another Year 9 and her mom were already at the stop when we arrived. They assured us (actually the mom assured us because the girl was an uncommunicative as Declan, who thought we were embarrassing him) that the bus does stop here, which did happen.

Yesterday afternoon, Marilynn and I were rushing home from a near-daily grocery shopping trip to Tesco when I got a text from Declan saying he’d gotten on the wrong bus and was headed to city centre. There are two buses that leave from the same stand at Lagan, and he’s supposed to get on the second one. Oops. You can’t travel a block by bus without a connection to city centre, so Declan knew exactly what to do to get back home.

The extra pound for the trip from city centre (did I mention that students pay for the bus?) was much better than the 8 pound 50 I spent on Friday, so we’re making progress.

And Declan did text this morning that the bus arrived on time.