If you’ve ever transported a group of boisterous children or teens in a car or minivan, you’ve gotten a taste — but just a very small taste — of what it’s like to be a public school bus driver. Attention to detail, a safety-first mindset, a deep respect for students, and a bottomless well of patience — these are just a few of the qualifications and virtues required for the job. On April 25, Capistrano Unified observed annual Transportation Appreciation Day, the district’s way of offering a collective heartfelt “Thank you!” to its team of bus drivers and transportation staff. Each school year, they log more than a million miles combined as they safely transport students to and from school, athletic events and field trips. Carlos Chicas, Transportation Director, and Jay McNamara, Transportation Manager, answer a few questions about what makes the district’s drivers so important — and admired.
Why does the district believe it’s important to celebrate Transportation Appreciation Day every year?
Chicas: “All employees in our district deserve recognition, and Capistrano does a really good job acknowledging the work of all our employees. That being said, I believe it is important to recognize the particular contributions of bus drivers and the entire Transportation team, for that matter. Transportation Appreciation Day allows us to specifically point out the special things they do for kids, which in turn makes the team feel special.”
Why are bus drivers such an important part of the day-to-day operations of the district?
McNamara: “The bus drivers are there at the beginning and end of every day. Their efficient and safe transport of students, coupled with their ability to affect attitudes, enable the students to start and end their days feeling good.”
Chicas: “What we do has everything to do with access. Our services allow some of our most disadvantaged students to obtain the same educational opportunities as the rest of our student body. Whether our passengers suffer from a physical or developmental disability, find themselves in an economical hardship, are homeless, or simply live too far from their assigned school, Transportation makes sure these students get to school on time, safely, and ready to learn.”
What characteristics are required for someone to be a good school bus driver?
Chicas: “First and foremost, they must be trustworthy. Bus drivers are the only employees who often provide services to students without the presence or assistance of another supervising adult. We trust these drivers to meticulously follow all rules and regulations of the road, be responsible for pupil behavior, all while respecting the motoring public. Also, bus drivers must be persons of high moral character who truly care for the children they serve, other people’s children.”
McNamara: “Empathy, positive, caring, patience.”
What’s the biggest challenge to being a school bus driver?
Chicas: “A professional bus driver must constantly pay attention to his or her driving performance, making sure he or she provides the safest ride possible, avoiding accidents at all costs. This becomes particularly challenging when dealing with a problematic group of 75 middle-school students. Pupil management on a school bus is truly an art form that sometimes takes years to perfect.”
McNamara: “To remain calm and continue to exhibit the above traits even when one or more of your riders are having a bad day.”
What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
McNamara: “The ‘thank you’s,’ smiles and changes in attitudes from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”
Chicas: “Our rewards absolutely come in the form of the students and parents we serve — the smiles on students’ faces as they arrive to Science Camp, ready for the adventures that await them, and the sighs of relief when a parent sees the bus pull up to deliver his or her child back home safely. The gratitude of our parents and students, knowing we have contributed in some small way to their educational development, is all the reward we need.”