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Lisa Cook has been driving to work for so long, she knows exactly how long it takes to get to Orchard Public School.
“It takes me about 27 minutes. I have it down to the second,” said Cook, a math teacher who commutes from Verdigre.
Cook isn’t the only teacher who travels every day. Nine of Orchard’s 23 teachers travel from different directions, commuting more than 450 miles each day combined.
Katie Stepp, an English teacher from O’Neill, said she enjoys the drive.
“I love driving when it is getting light out. There have been so many really cool sunrises that I get to watch,” she said.
What may seem like a normal commute to both Stepp and Cook, may seem outrageous to others. Cook said she doesn’t mind the travel because she loves her job.
“Not to sound cliché, but (it’s because of) the kiddos. They’re all pretty great and the staff here is great. I have amazing friends. I enjoy my job,” she said proudly.
With nine teachers racking up nearly 85,000 miles per year, that’s enough miles to travel around the moon 12.5 times.
The average American only drives about 12,000 miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Stepp said there are many reasons she continues to commute, including the freedom that comes with teaching at a smaller district.
“I get a say in what I want to teach and how I want to teach
it. I have more support for the things I would like to try,” she said. “If I want to try a new book or teaching a different way, I have support as far as willingness to get the supplies I need as well as willingness for professional development.”
The travel time allows the teachers an opportunity to unwind. Kristen Johnston, who teaches Spanish and business, commutes from O’Neill with her two children, who enjoy pointing out each animal as they drive along. Emily Heithoff, a music teacher from Elgin, said she listens to audiobooks and takes the time to debrief from the constant noise of her classes of music.
Bob Evans, an industrial arts teacher from Crofton, called hitting a deer with his Honda Civic an “epic event.” Even with his car being totaled he still was able to find another vehicle and head to school.
Some teachers have been in accidents while others witnessed them. Tami Doerr, a special education teacher from Plainview, has been traveling to Orchard the longest. She actually witnessed a student drive off the road after sliding on black ice.
Cook not only witnessed an accident, but she also called emergency responders. Luckily the victim involved in accident survived, bit when Lisa made it to school she couldn’t help, but feel grateful for everything she had.
“First period I got into school and saw my students and, I just kind of like a delayed reaction,” she said.
Obstacle after obstacle, the teachers said they make the daily commute to ensure their students can learn and grow.
Even with the commute, the teachers said the drive is worth it.
“I can’t imagine leaving OPS,” said Heithoff.