Nelson Smith

Smith

I wrote this story three years ago and now that school has started this year, it seems like a good time to revisit the story.

Close your eyes and imagine you have been given the responsibility of caring for 50 school-age children for the next hour.

They enter your care in waves, their ages ranging from kindergarten to high school.

In the first group there is a kindergartner who drew a pretty picture of a tree (at least that’s what she tells you). She is very excited as she proudly displays her picture and hands it to you to review.

Before you can give it a good look, a boy comes running by twirling his backpack like a lasso trying to coral the other first-grader in front of him. As you turn your attention to them, two girls show up arguing over who had the better “show and tell” piece that day. You hope those two can work it out on their own because your attention has just been drawn to a fourth-grader who just lost her sister in a car accident. She is holding a picture of her and crying as you search for the words to comfort her.

Believe it or not, you are still trying to get a girl to her assigned location when a boy runs up to you with a note saying your instruction for his care is different today. While reading the note, someone calls you looking for the precocious third-grader who managed to get lost on her way to you.

You are trying to organize this first wave of chaos and before you know it, here comes the second wave, middle-schoolers and their crazy mixture of energy, emotions and hormones. This group rushes to you all at once and so fast you can barely tell who has shown up.

Two boys are screaming about who should have won the basketball game in gym today. A girl has brought an open slushy drink she knows she is not supposed to have but she tries to sneak it by you. As you stop her, she starts screaming that she should be able to do whatever she wants. You are not her mother and certainly not the boss of her. You handle the situation with as much grace and poise as you can muster, simply informing her she cannot stay with the group if she doesn’t throw the slushy away.

The rest of the kids are yelling so loud you cannot make out if they are screams of joy or anger, but it matters little as you need to cram them into your little space and make sure you have room left for the high school kids. They arrive much like the second wave rushing in all at once. A high school boy sees a middle-school boy in his spot and uses the opportunity to mock and belittle him. A freshman, he has spent the day at the bottom of the food chain and is relishing his opportunity to exercise some dominance on the younger students. The rest of this group is more interested in what is going on outside your little space and are waving and yelling at the people standing outside.

As they finally get settled, you hear screams coming from just three feet away. An antsy second-grader who cannot sit still was reaching for her pencil on the floor and her backpack is now stuck under the seat in front of her and is slowing strangling her! Nearing your wits’ end, you extract her from her self-imposed confinement and beg her to sit still.

You review the group, take a deep breath and try to compose yourself the best you can because now it is time for the hard part. You are a school bus driver! Now, it is time for you to turn your back on this precious cargo and navigate a 25,000-pound object, with as many switches and levers as your typical airplane, through the streets of your little town to get them home to their families.

Not only are you constantly watching the mirror to ensure the children are safe, you are also watching the other vehicles around you like a hawk to ensure they stop as your precious cargo disembarks. You have to manipulate this giant vessel with expert precision as you weave through massive amounts of traffic, parked cars and pedestrians, all while you carry on conversations with the kids, listen to the radio squawk out instructions or questions and you know, don’t hit anything!

And, just to keep things interesting, every move you make and word you say, is recorded on video to ensure you do not make a mistake.

Does this sound fun or easy to you? I assure you: I did not embellish anything in this story. This is merely a sample of a typical afternoon as a school bus driver. It has been my great pleasure to work with many of the amazing and dedicated people that conduct this little symphony of chaos twice every school day. School bus drivers play the role of counselor, coach, mentor, disciplinarian, friend, nurse, advisor, chauffeur, listener and even Mom or Dad in some cases, all while trying to drive a bus, and most strive to make just a little positive impact everyday in the children we carry. When we are lucky enough to make that connection and have a positive impact it makes all the struggles worth the effort.

If you see a school bus on the road, give us a brake. Take a breath and try to give a little patience. Most motorist scream and yell at us, call the school corporation to complain about us and often wave at us with just one finger. We are trying to accomplish a very difficult task under very trying conditions and there is no room for error ... zero!

Contact Nelson Smith of Avilla, a five-year bus driver, at nelson.smith78@gmail.com.

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