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GUEST OPINION

Reflections of an Ashland school bus driver

 Posted: 9:45 AM May 27, 2014

It's been a tough year: troublesome children, irresponsible parents, snow in early December, radical detours around the plaza for filming, ubiquitous bad drivers, the road diet. So yes, it's been a wild ride. I've been driving bus for 16 years, this same route for eight; I've had the pleasure of watching kids grow from tiny tots to towering teenagers.

I gaze into the faces of beautiful children every day. I still smile when they get on the bus, not out of some sense of duty but because I genuinely enjoy them. Elementary school students are cute (and exasperating), middle school students are charming and engaging (and exasperating), high school students are cool and respectful (and waay too smart).

If you despair about our future, visit a classroom and you'll see smart, industrious, creative children and be inspired. On the bus I work a lot with tone and word selection so that I can maintain discipline without being oppressive. I practice inclusiveness, thus I don't have any bad kids on my bus, though some kids have a greater need to be socialized than others. Children aren't born civilized, we adults must provide it.

Children manifest overtly what we adults express more slyly and covertly. Technically, there are seven rear-view mirrors on a school bus, but when it is full of children, there are innumerable mirrors, all reflecting upon each other with infinite depth. I see this daily.

Sometimes I find myself arbitrating unresolvable disputes along the lines of, "You said this," "No I didn't, I said that," "No you didn't," etc. The absurdity level can get pretty high. One morning a child complained to me that his seatmate was ignoring him! Kids are goofy! They're liable to say or do anything.

Drivers laugh a lot. When you work with kids, you have an infinite source of material. To do this job you have to deftly parry whatever they throw at you.

Or leave behind. We find all sorts of stuff kids have left on the bus: coats, hats, gloves, packs, cellphones, pencils, school work, candy wrappers, report cards. Parents: Label everything your child owns with his or her name. Recently I found a lunch. Having noticed who had carried it on, I handed it to my supervisor, who took it to Helman. I mention this not because it is rare, but because it is so common. While I am only required to put such items in our lost and found box, we often go out of our way to return things to kids. Teachers, educational assistants, custodians, food workers, all staff go the extra mile to help kids when they mess up or forget. We are Team Ashland, helping you raise your child every way we can. So, does it take a village? You bet; in fact it takes a universe.

Not everyone can drive a 40-foot-long, 7-foot-wide, 8-foot-high tin banana carrying precious cargo through dense traffic, down narrow side streets (with double-parked trucks), on icy hills, all the while trying to keep in line 30-40 exuberant kids. We've had people wash out of training because they couldn't handle it all.

We are skilled professionals. We receive a minimum of eight hours a year in training and testing, including alcohol and drug testing.

While most car drivers respect school buses, some don't. If the bus's red lights are flashing, stop! And wait until they cease flashing. Nearly every bus driver has had a heart-stopping moment when someone ran through their bus's red lights and stop sign while kids were on the street.

The Ashland School District Transportation Department is not contracted out. This confers many advantages. Through our union, we get decent pay and benefits, which results in employees sticking around. Quite a few drivers have been here longer than I have. With experienced drivers, many problems are avoided, or dealt with appropriately. And we get to know the kids, their parents, the routes, the schools and their personnel, all of which make us part of a community of dedicated professionals. I don't rejoice when a difficult child moves away from my route because I believe these are the best possible circumstances for such a child.

Have I made mistakes? Oh, yeah. I once was so concerned about merging into traffic that I left a student behind at his stop. This job requires total concentration.

Most parents in Ashland are a responsible presence in their children's lives. When problems do arise with their kids, they usually respond positively. It makes me happy to know that so many children are properly cared for in a world going mad.

I will be retiring at the end of the school year in June. Thankfully, I still enjoy the kids and have managed to not become terminally grumpy.

The road ahead looks bright; looking back, it has been even brighter, and for that I am grateful. I will miss it.

David Kennedy of Ashland is an Ashland School District bus driver.


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