Wednesday: 6:15 A.M. The Early Bus

Race and class at a suburban school

Most of his classmates are still asleep as 15-year-old Jonathan Robinson stands on a dark street corner on the north side of St. Louis, Mo., waiting for Miss Judy's yellow school bus. Even before the bus arrives, he sees his mother in her Ford station wagon, pulling over on her way to work. She rolls down the window and waves a $5 bill--lunch money. Jonathan leans in and kisses her goodbye. Minutes later he boards the bus for the half-hour trek to Webster Groves.

Jonathan is what is known as a VTS kid, or voluntary transfer student. In the early 1970s,...

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