Principal goes above and beyond to take students on more excursions

Principal Dawna Duke is taking learning on the go at Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy thanks to recently getting cleared to drive a school bus for Dallas ISD.

Duke said she realized how expensive it is to use a school bus due to the cost of paying a driver and how limited field trips are if they have to be completed by a certain time, so she decided to step up and take on a bus driver role herself to make active learning more accessible. As a licensed bus driver, she can use a district bus. 

Now that she has her commercial driver’s license (CDL) approved in the state of Texas, she said she is looking forward to expanding her students’ horizons. Marsh already had a reading buddies program in place, through which they have taken 6 to 10 students to elementary schools in their feeder pattern to read to younger students, and now they can double the participation and continue building great relationships with their neighbors. 

The campus was also awarded a $21,000 grant through Texas State Parks to take students camping overnight at Cedar Hill State Park in the fall and in the spring of the 2023-2024 school year, and Duke said driving the bus herself will make a huge impact. 

“For a lot of our students, it’s the first time that they have been camping ever,” Duke said. “To rent a charter bus for an overnight trip is very expensive and would suck up a lot of the funds from that grant, so my goal is to drive the bus, camp with them, and then bring them back after the trip is over. Just having access to the school bus will likely be able to double our participation.”

This is not the first time Duke has driven a bus. She said she has had an active CDL since she was an 18-year-old taking students on daily field trips as part of an after-school program; she just was not certified to drive a school bus for Dallas ISD. 

To get that certification, she had to complete her medical clearance, a Dallas ISD onboarding program, the state driving test, a certification course, and a driving record check—all while managing her responsibilities as a principal, but Duke said all her hard work is paying off. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know as kids,” Duke said. “By giving them exposure and access to activities that aren’t in their day-to-day lives, it gives them opportunities to dream, think about what they want to be when they grow up, and see that the future is right in their hands. They just have to get these experiences.” 

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