With the arrival of “roadeo” season, we’re shining the spotlight on a handful of drivers who have advanced to the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in past years. This is the second in an occasional series.
ALLEN, Texas — For Angie Ortiz, training for school bus safety competitions was a demanding endeavor, but the hard work paid off by helping her keep her passengers safe.
“The purpose is to sharpen your driving skills and make yourself a better driver,” Ortiz said. “It saved me from a lot of potential accidents on the road while I had my students on that bus.”
In her eight-and-a-half years as a school bus driver for Allen Independent School District (ISD), Ortiz dedicated many hours to preparing for and participating in safety competitions at multiple levels: local, regional, state, and international.
Her preparation process included studying the Texas CDL handbook and a first aid certification manual from the Red Cross. To train for the 10 or so driving maneuvers involved in the competitions, Ortiz put in lots of practice on the road and on a skills course.
“It was hours and hours of practice, pretty much every day,” Ortiz said.
That regimen typically began in February, to get ready for the local competition, and could extend through July if she qualified for the international competition. Even after the season ended and a new school year began, she didn’t step out of the safety skills mindset.
“You don’t want to put that aside or forget about it,” Ortiz said. “On the road, I would always make an effort to picture myself going through these maneuvers here and there throughout the year. … It’s exhausting — you don’t stop.”
The desire to be the safest driver she could be kept her motivated, as did the encouragement of her boss, Allen ISD Director of Transportation Carl Cater.
“Carl Cater was my biggest supporter throughout this entire journey,” she said. “When I was exhausted from it, he always had the right words for me to continue on and always do my best.”
Ortiz’s dedication led to success in the school bus safety competition circuit as she advanced from local to regional to state. In 2014, she qualified for the first time for the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition. There, after contending in the transit category, she initially questioned her performance.
“We are our [own] worst critics,” Ortiz said. “I was not completely sure I had done my absolute best.”
Then, at the awards ceremony, she was surprised when the results were announced: She had placed third in her category.
“When they called my name … it was amazing. It was great,” Ortiz said, noting that it was also the first time that an Allen ISD driver had placed in the top three in the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition. The next year, 2015, Ortiz again advanced to the international level, and again she clinched a third place finish in the transit category. It was a memorable moment in what would be her last year as a regular school bus driver.
During her years of driving a bus, Ortiz was taking college classes to become a Spanish teacher. She started working in that role for an Allen ISD high school in December 2015. She said she misses having a regular school bus route, but she keeps up her CDL and certification so she can drive the occasional field trip or support the transportation department as needed.
“You know what they say,” Ortiz added, “’Once a bus driver, always a bus driver.’”
Read the first part in this series: How School Bus Driving Champ Larry Hannon Prepares for Safety Competitions