School traffic never bothers Max Schneider.
In the airplane he takes to class every day, his commute is pretty easy.
It’s nearly 7:30 a.m. when a small, five-passenger Piper Saratoga plane takes off from the mainland in Port Clinton, Ohio. Pilot Bob Ganley is on his way to pick up students heading to school.
His first stop is Middle Bass Island, about a mile away from the school. Instead of a bus stop, Max’s father is dropping him off at the Middle Bass airport to meet the plane.
On Western Lake Erie, there are only a few inhabited islands. The school on Middle Bass closed in 1982.
So Max and four other students go to Put-in-Bay School, located on South Bass Island. Their school bus will be this Piper plane. Ganley has two students to pick up: Max, a 10th-grader and Cecilia, a ninth-grader.
After landing in Put-in-Bay’s airport, Max and Cecilia walk to a large yellow van waiting in the airport’s empty parking lot. They join two teachers who flew over from the mainland earlier.
In the summer, golf carts and bikes carry thousands of tourists across these streets. But this time of year, there are only about 400 people on the island.
Max’s mother, Katie, teaches English here. Her family lives on Middle Bass, but during the winter, she rents a place near school just in case the plane is unable to fly.
“If they know there’s weather coming in, they’ll stay just because they don’t want to be late for school or miss out on school,” she says.
A round-trip flight to school on this island costs the Middle Bass school system nearly $100 per student each day. But Katie Schneider, who pays her own fare each week, says she and her husband have never considered making the move to Put-in-Bay.
“Middle Bass is our home,” she says. “That’s where he grew up; that’s where he was raised. That’s where our family history is.”
Put-in-Bay School is much like any other school on the mainland. There are state tests, after-school clubs and even prom. But Put-in-Bay Superintendent and Principal Steve Poe says it’s the smallest public school in the state.
“We have 81 students pre-K through 12,” he said. “Average class is about a half-dozen to eight students. That makes us unique with the individual attention our kids get.”
Max’s 10th-grade class has only three students. And his sister Lucy’s eighth-grade class has just five boys and three girls. Because they live across the lake from most of their friends, Max says they try to make the most of their days at school.
“Living on the island, I don’t get to hang out with a lot of the kids a whole lot because I’m usually back on Middle Bass, and you can’t hang out when there’s a mile of water between you,” he says.
Air transport also comes into play when it comes to the school’s sports teams.
The entire community shows up for games to cheer on the Put-in-Bay Panthers. It all seems like a normal school event until an announcer thanks people from the opposing team for bringing milk to the island.
That’s right: milk. That’s something even more appreciated when living on an island three miles from the shore.