Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.

Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.

It had been a rough day for Valerie Robertino. It was a Tuesday evening, early June, in St. Petersburg, Florida, and she was ready to get home.

Then she pulled up behind a school bus with its red lights flashing and its stop arm extended. Robertino looked alongside the bus and didn’t see any kids getting off. She was impatient.

“What’s the holdup?” she thought.

Every day, all over the U.S., tens of thousands of motorists come upon stopped school buses and — whether due to impatience, distraction or disregard for the law — illegally drive by those school buses, endangering the lives of students who are loading or unloading.

But that’s not what happened in Robertino’s case. As she waited there behind the bus, what she saw cut through her bad mood and left a lasting impression on her.

Powerful impact
In my editorial last month, I discussed how school bus drivers’ actions can impact their students as well as the public in general.

Robertino’s experience, as you’ll see, is a powerful example of that notion. She contacted SCHOOL BUS FLEET somewhat accidentally — she was actually trying to get her message to the school bus driver’s superiors — but I found her story so compelling that I asked her if I could share it with our readers.

Service with a smile
As Robertino sat in her car behind the school bus on that June evening, she didn’t immediately see anyone disembarking from the bus. Then the bus driver stepped out, walked to the rear of the bus and opened a door.

At that point, Robertino realized what was happening. The driver was preparing to help a student off of the bus in a wheelchair lift. Then Robertino noticed that the child’s father was waiting by the bus.

Even at that level of detail, the scene could certainly have had a disarming effect on Robertino. But what particularly struck her was how the bus driver carried out her duties.

“I have to say, for this day and age I was so touched by the driver’s tender smile and caring touch for this child,” Robertino recalled.

But that wasn’t the end of Robertino’s uplifting encounters with this exemplary school bus driver. The next morning, as Robertino was on her way to work, she saw the driver again, at the wheel of her yellow bus with an infectious grin. This got Robertino’s day off to a good start.

“Here she is [the school bus driver] starting and ending the day with a smile on her face,” Robertino said. “She made me feel good going to work.”

When I got in touch with Robertino to ask if I could share her story (and to suggest that she forward her note to the transportation department at the local school district, Pinellas County Schools), she gladly gave me her permission.
“It might help others like me,” Robertino replied, “to remember how important a smile can be.”                                         

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