Amid Flooding, Vt. Kids Hike To School

fromVPR

Many families who live in Mendon, Vt., have been stranded because of road damage from the post-hurricane flooding. One place they can't get to is the local elementary school. But instead of staying home, about 20 kids from Mendon have been hiking over a mountain pass to get to a nearby road, where a group of parents then ferries them to school.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

Yesterday was the first day of school for kids in Mendon, Vermont. But for some getting there was a bit of a journey. Flooding from Hurricane Irene has washed out roads near Mendon and parts of the town are cut off. As Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, kids and parents are now using an old hiking trail to get to class.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN)

NINA KECK: Cars pull up one at a time to the top of Journey's End Road in Mendon. Suzanne Jones and her son Crawford were dropped off at the trailhead just before 7.

SUZANNE JONES: So we're going to walk through and then we hike up to the hill to the neighbor's house and then they're going to pick us, take us to the bus stop and then give me a ride to work.

KECK: The half mile wooded trail has a gentle grade and is normally quiet. But parents are encouraged to walk with their kids because the trail is now one of the only ways in or out of town, so ATVs and other emergency vehicles are using it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi, Jill.

JILL: Hi.

KECK: At the other end of the wooded pathway, Bruce Carvill stands with a cup of coffee in his front yard. He smiles hello to the families as they head to a waiting circle of cars.

BILL CARVILL: People started the day after the storm trickling through, and it became a flood. There were literally thousands of people walking back and forth through here, dragging babies and food and gas and diapers and medicine and it continues on.

KECK: Rebecca Husak waves goodbye to her kids as they get into a car driven by a neighbor.

REBECCA HUSACK: Previously I complained about walking a quarter mile driveway to get the kids to the bus stop and now I'm walking that driveway, walking another half mile, picking up a ride at Route 4, hiking

KAREN PRESCOTT: I've got room for two more. Actually, if we move the backpack...

KECK: Karen Prescott, the principal of Barstow Memorial Elementary School in nearby Chittenden, drives up to help with carpooling.

PRESCOTT: Coming to help my kids get to school. It just amazed me yesterday. It was the best first day of school ever to see these kids hike down these trails so that they could be with the rest of us the first day.

KECK: Prescott says 29 of her students live in areas cut off by flooding. She says about 20 hiked in yesterday and today.

PRESCOTT: I just want it done safely. If the kids come late to school that's fine. But the kids want to be there, and we want them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...come down here and drop things off anyways. So, I mean, certainly this isn't any problem. She'll be there...

PRESCOTT: Is there anything else that you need? We have stocked up on water. And so I've got like in my trunk all of these water you - are you good?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're good. We're good.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Just encourage the kids to use the septic while they're in school.

PRESCOTT: Yeah, I will.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PRESCOTT: I will.

KECK: Rebecca Husack says going through all of this reminds the kids just how important school is.

HUSACK: But I think by the end of next week probably the novelty of it will have worn off and they'll be tired from the week of school, so the trek will be harder. And I'm also concerned that we've got some rain coming and that's going to make our little hike more difficult.

KECK: Officials don't know how long it will take to repair the roads. It could be weeks or months. But as long as they have to, Rebecca Husack and the other parents say, they'll rely on the trail and help from their neighbors to get their kids to school.

For NPR news, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.

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