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Episode 96: Behind the Wheel with a JSD School Bus Driver

They spend hours behind the wheel transporting thousands of students safely to and from school, on fun field trips, to athletic events and more.

On this episode of the Supercast, we hop on board the big yellow school bus to find out what it’s like to be a school bus driver. Hear why our drivers love the job and the students they serve, driving countless miles with safety in mind each and every day.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:

Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host Superintendent, Anthony Godfrey. They spend hours behind the wheel transporting thousands of students safely to and from school, on fun field trips, to athletic events and more. On this episode of the Supercast, we hop on board the big yellow school bus to find out what it's like to be a school bus driver. Hear why our drivers love the job and the students they serve, driving countless miles with safety in mind each and every day. The school bus is here, let's climb on board.

We're here at Eastlake to take the kids home on an afternoon, joining Sean on his route. Sean is a driver extraordinaire, very popular, not just with the kids on the bus, but in the neighborhood as well. And we're excited to take a ride.

Sean: Hi kiddos. Can you guys all say "Hi"? This is the Superintendent kiddos.

Anthony Godfrey: Hi guys!

Sean: All right, kiddos. We're taking off, everybody sit down.

Kids: Can we be Fortnite taking off?

Sean: Nope, we're being the red alligator today kiddos. All right, kiddos, everybody sit down, remember to keep my aisles clear. Do we stand up while the bus is moving?

Kids: No!

Sean: That's what I thought. Thank you.

Anthony Godfrey: What's the, uh, red dragon or red alligator or Fortnight?

Sean: They are the red Dragons, but every day before we take off, I let somebody choose what we are. Sometimes we're a magic school bus, sometimes we're a hippopotamus, I let one kid choose, and today they chose alligator. So we're going to be a red alligator today.

Sean: We get lots and lots of random questions on the bus.

Anthony Godfrey: Well there's time and space. It's like a little road trip.

Sean: Do you guys remember what you were going to do up here at the crosswalk?

Kids: Yeah!

Sean: Okay. As soon as we go through the crosswalk and pass and then you guys can start.

Kids: (Singing) 'Wheels on the Bus'

Anthony Godfrey: Sean, I've got to admit, it's nice to have somebody else driving.

Sean: I've always enjoyed driving. Even when we go on vacations, everybody's like, you need a break and I tell them, "Nope, I'd rather drive."

Anthony Godfrey: Well, Sean, it's a relatively short time with them, but boy, there's a lot of interactions.

Sean: A lot of interaction.

Anthony Godfrey: What other schools do you serve on your routes?

Sean: I drive Mountain Ridge High School and Copper Mountain Middle School.

Anthony Godfrey: How are high school, middle school and elementary kids different on the bus?

Sean: My high school kids like to sit down and keep to themselves and be quiet. They'll talk to me every now and then. The junior high kids are very vocal. They have their own little groups that they'd like to stay with. And as you can tell, the elementary kids are the rambunctious bunch.

Anthony Godfrey: Well, they're rambunctious because they want to talk to you. You're doing a great job of it and I love your interactions with the kids. It's so, so fun to watch.

Sean: I appreciate you. Thank you for coming out today.

Anthony Godfrey (04:19): We are here in the transportation offices in the new building to talk with three of our finest bus drivers about what their experience is. Please introduce yourself and tell everyone how long you've been driving.

Jerri: I'm Jerri Ellsworth. I've been driving for about five years.

Val: I'm Val Asay, six years.

Sean: Sean O'Brien and this is my first year.

Anthony Godfrey: Okay, great. I'm really excited to talk with you guys. First of all, tell me what made you want to be a bus driver?

Jerri: When I was released from the job I had previously, I received some paperwork from that former place and I said, "Consider me retired." Then I looked in the little town newspaper and they were hiring bus drivers, so I said "I'm retired, I'll go drive a school bus."

Anthony Godfrey: How about you Val?

Val: That's about the same for me. I've been retired about 10 years and I thought that I needed something to do to keep myself busy, and this was a perfect fit for me.

Anthony Godfrey: Great. How about you, Sean?

Sean: I have a nine-year-old. I worked at Terra Linda last year and this year I worked doing buses and I have the same days off as him. It works out perfectly.

Anthony Godfrey: That's awesome. It's really nice to have the same schedule. What do you guys like most about being a bus driver?

Jerry: I like driving the different buses and I like the kids, the interaction with the kids. They're all different. Some are challenging and others are just really good. Really good and sweet kids.

Anthony Godfrey: I'm sure that there's a good blend there. How about you Val?

Val: I have driven regular ed buses, but I drive a special needs bus. I enjoy those students. I have had some of the same students for five years, and the parents get to know me and the students get to know me. Those special needs kids melt your heart and they are really good kids. Once you get to know their needs, their wants and the things that upset them or the things that make them relax, it's really special. It's special to know that all children are offered an education, even those who have very special needs. I love my special needs kids.

Anthony Godfrey: I'm sure that seeing you is one of the things the kids really look forward to in the morning and on the way home. Just getting to spend that time with you after they get to know you for as long as they do.

Val: Yes, there are a couple of instances where the parents are glad to know that the same faces are coming back to pick their children up, to take them to school. They get used to our faces and who we are. That is very reassuring to most kids, but especially to the special needs kids.

Anthony Godfrey: I can only imagine that it's comforting to say, "Yeah, there's Val taking care of me getting me to school." That's awesome. Sean, what do you like most about it?

Sean : It's got to be the kids. At Terra Linda last year, I worked in the Strive unit, the autistic unit, and was one of the 'pink ladies' outside doing recess duty and just fell in love with them.

Anthony Godfrey: What's most difficult about driving a bus that maybe people don't realize?

Sean: People not following the stop signs. That is just downright scary that people are on their phones, not paying attention. When you see the stop signs come out, just please slow down and don't go around them. It's almost a weekly thing. And you have to sometimes grab the kids, honk the horn as loud as you can, and make sure that they know the rules, jump back in front of the bus because you don't want to see another child get hurt.

Anthony Godfrey: How about you?

Jerri: Well, regular drivers have a tendency to cut us off.They'll swerve right over in front of you. I have a front end bus, a nose, and it's like, they just wipe the nose off the bus to get off and make a quick turn, or they see a bus coming from a stop sign and they pull right out. You always have to be aware of your surroundings, everything around you and, and look forward because you never know what's going to happen.

Anthony Godfrey: Val shaking his head in agreement.

Val: Yes, everybody's in a hurry and the bus is just another obstacle that they've got to try to work around. That's a scary thought that they think that way. That's my personal thought, I don't know how they feel, but it seems to be that everybody's in a hurry. We need to slow down.

Jerri: That's right. I had a driver that got tired of waiting I guess. We were close to a four-way stop where I picked up my elementary this morning and she just decided to go. I honked, and she just kept on going. It scares me when they do that. They don't realize that something can happen or that a kid can come running across the street. They aren't going to take the time to wait a couple of minutes.

Anthony Godfrey: It takes every driver out there to be more cautious and to be careful to keep everyone safe. What are some of the things that people may be misunderstand about what it's like to be a bus driver?

Jerri: I've had people say, 'how can you do that? Have all those kids behind you?'  You have to let your kids know from the start that you are serious about what you're doing. "You guys have to stay in your seats to be safe and you have to do it. Everybody is an example to one another." You have to follow through if somebody's misbehaving. You have to let them know, "Hey, I mean business, if I'm pulling over because somebody's jumping across the seats, you're either going to come sit up up behind me, or I'm going to have to write you up and it's going to involve the principal and your parents." I think that's something they don't realize. And then you have to remind them, "We have cameras on the bus. We can see everything you're doing and hear everything you say."

Anthony Godfrey: That's something parents who are listening to this, aren't thinking about probably. Go back to your childhood and think about it. If there' would've been cameras on that bus it would have been a little bit different. I can tell you that.

Sean: We're the first point of contact for these kids in the morning. We're the first thing that gets them going. If you're in a bad mood, then the kids are going to be in a bad mood. Even if you're having a bad day already, we try and make it happy so that the kids can go to school and be happy all day. Just tell them when they're getting on "good morning" when they get off, "I hope you have a good day. We'll see you guys after school". As they're getting on your bus, talk to them, say, "how's your day going?"  Just making the kids happy is a good thing.

Anthony Godfrey: I love that because really, that is what you are. You're the first point of contact. You set the tone for the day and I'm sure, like we talked about it earlier, it's a comfort to see a familiar face and to start things out that way. To know that there's someone asking how they are right from the start. Someone who knows them.

Jerri: I had a middle school girl a couple of years ago that wrote me a note on the last day of school and thanked me for making her day better by wishing her a good day or saying good morning to her, asking her how she was. Ever since then I make sure I always greet everybody because it was important to her that her day was started out on a positive note when she was feeling bad.

Anthony Godfrey: It doesn't surprise me at all that that was important to her. I know what a great role you guys play. Safety is of course the main thing, but feeling important, feeling like you belong, having someone make a contact, say "I'm glad to see you".  I'm sure that when you see that someone you're used to coming on the bus, doesn't come on. Then you're able to say, "Hey, how's everything going? Are you okay?" because they missed a day.

Sean: Especially this year.

Anthony Godfrey: You guys are awesome. I'm so glad that our kids see you first thing in the morning. You're taking such great care of them and I just can't thank you enough. Thank you very much.

Stay with us, when we come back more behind the wheel with our school bus drivers.

Commercial (14:03):

Are you looking for a job right now, looking to work in a fun and supportive environment with great pay and a rewarding career? Jordan School District is hiring. We're currently filling full and part-time positions. You can work and make a difference in young lives and education as a classroom assistant or a substitute teacher. Apply to work in one of our school cafeterias where our lunch staff serves up big smiles with great food every day. We're also looking to hire custodians and bus drivers. In Jordan School District we like to say people come for the job and enjoy the adventure. Apply today at workatjordan.org.

Anthony Godfrey (14:56): We're talking now with Paul Bergera, the Director of Transportation.

Anthony Godfrey: Paul, tell us some of the numbers. How many employees do you have in the Transportation department and how many buses do we run in Jordan district?

Paul: Great question Superintendent. We have about 272 employees in the Department of Transportation. Our fleet comprises over 110 CNG buses, compressed natural gas buses, our entire fleets is around 265 buses. So we're quite large. We have the largest CNG fleet west of the Mississippi, and it's a natural resource for the state of Utah. So it makes sense for us to reduce the carbon footprint in our valley and take advantage of a natural resource that's right here at our doorstep.

Anthony Godfrey: I know that we've received some nice awards and some grants associated with that. What would you tell someone who is thinking about applying to be a bus driver, describe kind of what the options are and how they would apply.

Paul: You bet. We have all varieties and all walks of life. We have young people who are here, we also have middle-age folks who have expressed an interest in driving buses and retired people. It really depends on the person because we have a lot of different options for drivers. They can come and be a substitute bus driver if they don't want to commit to driving all year round. We have some contracted positions, so we do offer benefits for anybody that works at least 27 and a half hours up to 40, is benefit eligible. So it really kind of depends on the individual and what he or she wants as an employment option in driving a school bus. What I hear all the time, from drivers that I talk with, is how much they enjoy what they're doing and how much they wish they would have started at a much earlier point in their life. Driving a school bus is just extremely rewarding, like was mentioned, with the drivers. They're the first face that kids see in the morning, the last face they see in the afternoon. What an impact drivers can have on the students of Jordan School District.

Anthony Godfrey: They certainly do have a tremendous positive impact on kids. It makes a big difference to see a smiling familiar face that gets you there to school on time in the morning. We're always looking for drivers, so anyone who's interested really should get online and apply, and like you said, there's a lot of flexibility in it. If you want to be a substitute driver, and there are routes that are stacked with three or four schools, and there are others where it's a single school route and you can spend less time driving during the day. So that's, I think, that's one of the appealing things, is there's a lot of flexibility.

Paul: Absolutely. Depending on your kind of day to day activities, some drivers choose to do mid day runs. So they'll have a preschool or a kindergarten, some drivers like to drive their morning run, go home, have some lunch, spend some time at home and then come back and drive their afternoon routes. So a great point, yes, a lot of flexibility and just such a great career.

Anthony Godfrey: Now it's not just drivers, we need mechanics, we need attendants. Tell me about some of the other jobs in transportation.

Paul: Excellent. Attendants are always a hot commodity. Our attendants are specifically assigned to buses with students with special needs. Mechanics, especially in our new facility, we've grown, so we are looking for a loop tech currently, for example.

Anthony Godfrey: Great, well, lots of opportunities, a great place to work and a brand new facility. We got a tour of that  recently, and we'll do a podcast about that soon. Just great, great people to work with and a great area in which to work.

Paul: Thank you, and I really appreciate your support.

Anthony Godfrey: Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see you out there.

 

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