Brenda Arrendale has been driving a Madison County school bus for 34 years and she still enjoys it. And like her fellow four bus drivers with 30 or more years’ experience, in some cases she’s not only driven today’s children to and from school, but their parents as well.
“You have to have a love of kids, you have to enjoy working with kids to be able to do it (this long),” said Arrendale, who has driven kindergartners through high school seniors over the years. She currently drives a bus full of middle and high school students.
“It means a lot to me when a child says ‘thank you for being the type of bus driver you were,’ even though at the time they may have thought I was strict on them,” Arrendale said. “My job is to keep them safe…I tell them, ‘I’m your mama and your daddy until you get off this bus.’”
Gatha Bridges, who has been a bus driver for 38 years, agrees. She has driven a special needs bus for the past 14 years. “That took some getting used to, but now I just love it, I’d rather drive the special ed bus than a regular bus,” Bridges said. “You get very emotionally attached to them (students).”
All the drivers agree that, like all jobs, it has its ups and downs.
One “down” is in the area of discipline. “I don’t think we had as many (disciplinary) problems in the past,” Arrendale said.
Janie Mann Strickland, who also drives a special needs bus, agreed. “We use to know and talk with the kids’ parents more,” she said.
But still and all, Strickland says she couldn’t imagine not driving her bus route, even though for her, it means getting up at 5:15 a.m. “I just love it, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I have never went home and threatened to quit.”
Another challenge for the drivers is all the new technology, such as cell phones and iPods. “The kids all have them and they can cause problems and distractions,” Arrendale said.
All agree that an area of improvement was when the decision was made a decade or so ago to split the age groups on routes, separating elementary school kids from middle and high schoolers. “That was a good thing,” Arrendale said.
Both Rudolph Nix and Ed Smith have filled out their “retirement” papers at one point or another – but have yet to miss a day of driving.
“I just couldn’t give it up,” Smith, who has always driven a Comer Elementary route, said. Likewise, Nix has always driven for Ila.
Arrendale said the funniest thing she can ever remember happening is unknowingly taking her Schnauzer, Otis, on her route one morning.
“I didn’t know he had climbed aboard until he barked at a student when I made a stop,” she said, laughing. “He was hiding on the back seat and he barked every time somebody boarded the bus. The kids loved it.”
And the one thing they’d all like to say to parents – “They all ought to try it for just one day,” Smith said. “Walk a mile in my shoes.”
New transportation director Brooks Dobbs agrees wholeheartedly. “For sometimes as much as four hours a day, the bus is an extension of the classroom for students,” he said. “The bus driver is a school system employee who deserves as much respect as a teacher.”
He pointed out that most kids who stay in the Madison County school system will have two bus drivers – their elementary driver and their middle and high school driver.
“They’ll spend a lot of time with those drivers over the years,” he said. “That driver has a lot of responsibility – he/she is responsible for the safety of 30 – 72 kids on that bus. That’s a lot of lives in their hands, and a lot of distractions they have to learn to deal with.”
Currently, there are 85 full and part time bus drivers covering 69 routes in the county. All of those drivers must undergo yearly physicals, drug testing, safety training, CPR and meet other requirements.
“I’ve been in transportation for 13 years, and whether it transporting merchandise or children, it’s always a balancing act between personnel and community,” Dobbs said. “And customer service is a top priority.” Add mechanical issues with buses to the list and it’s a pretty intense job to keep everything running smoothly.
And that makes Dobbs doubly grateful for his many experienced drivers. “I’ve been so blessed with that and it’s been smooth transition,” he said. “They know what to do and how to do it, and that makes my job a lot easier.”
He said his first few months on the job was also made easier by the former director, Larry Evans, who retired this spring. “He helped make it a smooth structured transition,” Dobbs said.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry