by Melodie Davis
for release March 3, 2000
Have You Thanked Your Child's Bus Driver Lately?
If your child goes to public school, who is ultimately one of the most important persons in your child's education?
The bus driver.
My sister was a bus driver all last year when she was kind of burned out from her earlier career. She helped me better appreciate the individuals who transport precious cargo -- our kids -- in sometimes hair-raising conditions. If the bus driver messes up and a child dies, the best teachers, facilities, and parental involvement count for nothing.
I, for one, had little awareness of the rigorous training, licensing and certification procedures required of bus drivers (at least where my sister lives). Handling a big bus takes some getting used to, and then drivers have to be prepared for last minute changes of equipment and all kinds of road conditions. There is no way to prepare drivers for all the circumstances they'll encounter with a bus full of noisy, energetic children while also trying to pay full attention to the road.
On Friday afternoon of the first week of school, one of the children was coughing and another student said, "Debbie swallowed something and it's caught." My sister, Pert, had to keep driving on the busy highway with no pull offs. All of a sudden, she sensed Debbie was not coughing anymore, and she prepared to just stop in the road and do the Heimlich maneuver. Within seconds, though, the girl gagged and brought up a butterscotch candy. But, sometimes kids cry over nothing, of course, like the girl who yelled that Danielle was bleeding. At a bus stop, Pert told Danielle to come up so she could check her. There was a red dot, but about the size of the period in this sentence.
Then there are the homesick four- or five-year-olds, leaving home for the first time. Four-year-old George cried every morning as he boarded the bus. After a few minutes, George gave Pert a confident "Thumbs up" signal from the back of the bus as she glanced at him in the review mirror. After a month, he didn't need to cry anymore, but they continued giving each other the little "thumps up" signal every morning. Somehow I think that little ritual kept her going, too.
Pert had white kids using the "n" word and spitting on black kids (she talked to them about racism and made them apologize); kids throwing up; kids showing private parts to others; kids with cigarettes in their lips; kids making fake bomb threats. Pert was even asked to write a note stating she was a child's mother explaining why his homework wasn't done.
Then there were the inevitable childhood chants. Brittany enjoyed leading loud obnoxious chants to antagonize the boys, such as, "Boys stink, girls don't. Boys drink, girls are dear." Pert advised Brittany that she had great leadership skills but needed to use them in appropriate ways. Brittany soon switched to leading fun, clean songs.
Then there was five-year-old Elisha who was everywhere but in his seat. He was over it, under it, on his knees, lying down, upside down. Pert assigned him to the front seat, the back seat, and he was finally suspended from the school bus for five days after write ups and chats with the principal failed to keep him seated.
By Thanksgiving vacation, Pert knew all their names, personalities, and that some of them came from abusive, heart-rending homes. One bus driver who wrote to Another Way said, "What some of these kids face before they walk out the door and onto my bus would curl your hair. It's a wonder some are as good as they are. I always try to think about why they are acting up before I write them up."
As Pert's children boarded on the last day before Thanksgiving vacation, Pert asked them to think about what they were thankful for. When they got off, she gave each one a card that said, "You're special. I'm glad you ride my bus" and attached some candy. When six-year-old Corky got off, he looked at Pert with a winning smile and said, "I'm thankful for bus drivers!" My own child's bus driver had to be hospitalized several times in recent years. After one bout in the hospital, she asked to return to her duties early when she learned that the children were misbehaving badly, getting sent to the principal. She knew, in spite of her own health problems, that her children wouldn't get in as much trouble when she was behind the wheel.
These are the kinds of bus drivers that some of our children are lucky enough to have. If your child has a good bus driver, write a note of appreciation today!
If you have a heart-warming bus driver story to share, send it to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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