LEWISTON — Standing in the garden of freshly cut granite and marble behind Collette Monuments, teacher Karen Ogg clutched a rolled-up rubbing in her hand, counted her 12 students and led a dash to the curb of Sabattus Street.
"I hate to rub and run, but we can't be late," Ogg said to Janet Beaulieu of Collette's. She boarded the purple city bus behind her kids, plopped onto a plastic seat and sighed.
In a moment, she was smiling again.
She began chatting with the bus driver, mused aloud about stops she wished she could make and listened to the teens as they tried to organize what they'd seen.
It was meant to be a whirlwind.
Since June, Ogg and her colleagues at the Franklin and Merrill Hill alternative schools in Auburn had been weighing an idea from Franklin's science teacher, Jon Morris. For a project aimed at getting students to learn outside the classroom, referred to as expeditionary learning, ex-New Yorker Morris imagined getting the kids onto the community's public transportation system.
An experience could be tailored for every discipline, including the math in bus schedules, the social studies of what might pop up along a route and the science of the public transportation system and its efficiency.
All summer, Morris and the schools' other teachers exchanged emails. When school resumed in the fall, the teachers finalized a plan working with the bus system's operators, Western Maine Transportation Services.
In the end, they planned for an all-out assault of the Citylink bus system.
About half of the two schools' students, about 100 kids in grades seven through 12, divided into six teams and rode along Lewiston-Auburn's arteries. Some went up Lisbon Street or toward the Auburn Mall. Ogg and her team headed up Campus Avenue past the Lewiston Armory, took a right at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center and a left onto Sabattus Street. Along the way, the kids were asked to notice the kinds of shops and institutions they passed.
How many services might they have access to for the bus's $1.25 fare?
They'd have to know the answer. After Thursday's trip, the kids were charged with creating a commercial to promote the bus system. Western Maine Transportation leaders plan to judge the entries. The winning team will be led on a six-stop food tour of the bus routes, led by Morris.
Thursday's tour was more focused.
"We're exploring every route to see what's available," said Tyler Smith, a 10th-grader who said he liked the bus but would rather walk.
"This is faster," he said.
It's also warmer, said Tyler Bazinet, a senior who dressed for the journey in a T-shirt, jeans and a canary-yellow winter hat. Though he is not a regular bus rider, he said any pitch for the Lewiston-Auburn system ought to include the fact that the bus is safe. Brian Lapointe, an 11th-grader, said the bus can be a quick alternative for people who take the time to study the routes and schedules. If people need to go from downtown to someplace such as the mall or outer Lisbon Street, it can be a fast alternative, he said.
Besides Collette Monuments, the kids visited the Maine Family Federal Credit Union and Grant's Bakery. At Collette's, they captured the images on the stones with simple rubbings, many using their pencils and paper to collect birthdays and crosses.
At the credit union, the teens heard a presentation on the services they might get if they wished to become members. At Grant's, they picked up a birthday cake for Morris, who turned 60 Thursday, and bought pastries to take back with them to their school in Auburn. One group of four boys pooled their $3-per-student budget to buy a chocolate cream pie.
When it was over two hours later, Ogg called the expedition an "incredible success."
She'd find out later what they learned, but something was awakened, she said. For some, it was in their eyes as they heard talk of checking accounts and job opportunities.
Some were more visible, such as senior Dylan Mackey's impromptu spokesman role. As the group returned, he greeted each new passenger.
"Welcome to the bus!" he said.