Feb. 11–15 was Wisconsin School Bus Driver Recognition Week.
This is one of those positions that often gets taken for granted, yet our students and our district are very dependent on what they do every day. Most of us just assume that the bus is going to pull up to the driveway, get our kids safely to school on time, and then return them to their home at night.
For about three years while I was going to college, I drove a school bus to help cover living expenses and the cost of tuition. I consider that to be my first experience as an educator. I believe to this day that I learned more about managing student behavior driving a bus than I ever did from my university professors.
I remember trying to keep an eye on the 40 students or so in my first mobile classroom, all while trying to keep the bus on the road, obey all of the traffic laws, and navigate back-country roads through some pretty atrocious weather and driving conditions. It is the ultimate in multitasking.
Russ Stratton Buses, Inc., has the Platteville School District busing contract. That covers 14 regular routes, one noon route, and 23 drivers. A little bus trivia: at the end of just one day, the drivers will have driven 735 miles.
I thought I would catch up with a couple of these important educators to get a feel for who they are. I first talked with Robin Sandlin, the office manager for Stratton Buses. She schedules the routes, makes sure the buses are ready to go every day, transfers all the messages about who is and who isn’t riding, makes sure the backpack that got left on the bus gets to the school of the student who left it behind, and a thousand other things. The thing she likes most about her job is the kids, and the thing she likes least is trying to get enough drivers to cover all of the routes. That tells me that the work is hard, the schedules not easy to accommodate, and the perks few and far between.
I talked with the newest driver, Dennis Lyght. When I asked him why he became a driver, he laughingly said he has nothing else to do, but then did admit that he had no kids of his own, so it was nice to see the kids on his route. His favorite part of the job is meeting the little ones. The toughest part of the job is when he ends up swapping routes … new roads, new kids, new routine.
I then talked with the longest-term driver, Dale Hood. He has been driving the same route area for more than 30 years. My guess is that he has driven parents of some of the kids he picks up today. He started driving because he knew the bus division manager and he was looking for drivers. It fit in as a part-time job and he could continue to farm. Just as with the others, he likes the kids the most. He pointed out that working with some of the adults wasn’t always the easiest and felt that once in a while, they could use a few pointers on helping students behave. The biggest change over the years has been student behavior … I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean that it has gotten better.
Whether for one year or 30, I have a great deal of respect for those that take on this responsibility. I wonder how many of our students and parents said “thanks” to their driver last week? My guess is not a lot.
On behalf of the kids who depend on you to make sure they get to school … thank you. On behalf of the parents who depend on you to drive their children safely to school and home again … thank you. On behalf of the Platteville School District that depends on you every day … pretty much rain or shine … thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.
The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Chamber Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; Common Council President Mike Dalecki, Platteville Recreation Coordinator Jordan Burress, State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.