The news media is seldom kind to the pupil transportation industry and particularly our drivers.
Whether it’s vehicular negligence, some drug or alcohol-related offense or the oft-repeated incident of a sleeping child left on a school bus, it's bound to hit the newsstands in a big way.
And although the numbers for incidents such as these are extraordinarily small, good news about the industry is often overshadowed by the not-so-good. The best we can do as an industry is work aggressively at controlling our own image. We have plenty of good things to share.
Recognized or not, America’s school bus drivers are heroes. And when we say heroes, we’re not just speaking of the easily recognizable ones like Barry Bannon from Montana, who helped save the life of a student who had been struck by lightning while golfing (see November 2005 issue, pg. 8, or click here). We’re not just talking about Heather Jeane from Texas, who this year won the Blue Bird Heroism award for protecting her students from a man allegedly high on drugs who tried to hijack her bus. We’re also talking about the common and generally unsung heroes who go out of their way to ensure that their passengers start the day with a warm greeting or a word of encouragement.
We speak of the many career drivers like Marge Schulz from Wisconsin, who has driven a school bus for 39 years with no citations or accidents.
The drivers we envision are the exemplary types who — aware of the growing threats of terrorism, stress, student behavioral problems and relentless pressure from parents — simply keep it moving.
They are the drivers who volunteered to assist with the Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuations. They endured the intense heat, long hours, hunger and exposure to help the less fortunate. When things intensified at home with the increased ridership from evacuees, our drivers braced themselves and responded with gusto. They absorbed the increase and persevered. They were not discouraged.
These men and women are enthusiastic about what they do. They enter state and national roadeos to show their mettle. And, they are very supportive of one another. For instance, recall the outpouring of support after Tennessee school bus driver Joyce Gregory was gunned down, allegedly by a 14-year-old student, in March. Approximately 1,500 people, many of them bus drivers, attended the funeral.
In short, the individuals who pilot the yellow and black armada are not only a substantial part of our children’s lives, they are everyday people who affect the lives of adults as well.
Give them a hand
It must be stressed further how much of an impact a school bus driver has on a child’s life. Indeed, they’re in line with the teacher and athletics coach. Drivers can be extensions of the home, too, imparting discipline, inclusion, acceptance and etiquette.
Communication is another element of the relationship between drivers and passengers, especially in special-needs transportation. Here, drivers and attendants are entrusted to provide proper care away from the home for students who in many cases cannot fend for themselves.
They also help protect our children and the environment by reducing time spent idling, which helps reduce the amount of harmful emissions from our buses. They’re vigilant of road hogs and stop-arm violators, who present yet another threat to our children’s safety.
You know these drivers well; they’re the ones who’re constantly being awarded for good attendance and safety practices. They’re cordial and considerate. They smile. Teachers ask these drivers to drive on their activity trips, student passengers want to ride on their buses and parents trust them. They’re the drivers you want to promote to trainers, dispatchers, coordinators and assistants.
These hardworking people would break your heart if they ever decided to leave your humble fold. They make you proud. Recognize them, for they are truly the gifts that keep on giving. And we owe them something, right here and now. So, let’s say it together. “Thank you!”