Letter to the Editor: Laura Pearson Loves Her Job

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Laura Taliaferro Pearson

SWCSD#2 Bus Driver

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I’m writing this on behalf of, or to, our transportation department. I just want to say that “I Love This Job.”

Before I became a driver for Sweetwater County School District #2, I was like any other parent, I put my children on a bus, and never gave it another thought, basically taking my child’s transportation, to and from school, for granted. Now that I am a “Driver”, and I see, first hand, all that goes on to safely transport our children, not only to and from school, but across the state and into adjacent states, I can tell you, I am forever changed.

I have been to a few conferences the past two years that Oscar generously offers to our department, and to say the least, it has been an eye-opening experience. Just to see the passion, around our state, that is dedicated to safely transporting our children.

There has been a stigma put upon transportation in general as “just the bus driver”, and I for one have had a changed frame of mind, and am making it my responsibility to help change the minds of others.

If everyone could see all that goes on in our department specifically, you would be shocked. There are so many entities that keep things running smoothly. We have a detailer (Jason) that keeps our busses cleaner than any other in the state, a bus fueler and fluid checker (Vanessa) that makes sure our busses are ready to go at any given minute, mechanics (Brian and Cliff) that are tirelessly fixing and maintaining our busses, and our safety manager (Charmi) who constantly keeps us on our toes, educating us about the do’s and don’ts while driving, state laws, eye opening scenarios, rules of the road, and maintaining positive relationships with our precious cargo. I have gotten to know this woman the past two years and she is such a sensitive soul, with only your child’s safety in mind. She worries sometimes whether her constant preaching actually gets through to her drivers, and let me tell you, Charmi, it does.

We are only human, and we make mistakes too, only the mistakes we make, could mean a child’s life. I personally made a mistake last week, and I know that Charmi worried all day about the way she handled it, and I had to reassure her that it was handled perfectly. We as drivers need to realize that when things are made an example of, even if publically, it is not to personally attack someone, it is to teach all of us a lesson. I know that Charmi wasn’t personally attacking me, but was rather caught in the heat of the moment, and only thinking about that child’s safety. Our transportation coordinator (Rachel) somehow tries to organize and collaborate not only daily routes, but all of our activity trips, not to mention the task of having to assign those trips to drivers. She is another one that constantly stresses about not being able to give even one child the opportunity to do something, because there may not be enough busses on that particular day. All of our drivers and aides, a great group of women and men that must work together (have each other’s back), and are passionate about their kids. They are always on call, even during their off hours, just in case a school must be evacuated. One thing that I have learned through this whole process is that nothing can prepare you for the responsibility of driving a bus load of children across the state, in extreme weather, and know that all of those lives are in your hands. I have driven loads of hay, water, and livestock in these conditions for many years, and nothing is comparable. Would you be able to do it? Lastly, our transportation director (Oscar) who manages to maintain his sanity, somehow, working with about 85% estrogen and 15% testosterone, overseeing all of these entities, making decisions with only the safety of our children in mind. I’m wondering if any of you could, on a daily basis, worry about whether all of the kids in your district got home safely, wonder if a decision you make, might possibly mean a child, or even an educator, not making it back to their family, remain on call, anxiously awaiting the text in the middle of the night that your bus has safely reached its destination? Not sure I could.

I often get asked “Do you really like driving?” There was a saying that I saw on a shirt once, it read “A Bus Driver Confession, once a child is in my school bus, I will always refer to them as one of my kids”, and I know that most of our drivers and aides feel the same way. We do this, because we love them, and we realize that we too have an impact on their lives. Did you know that many of these drivers maintain the same routes and activity trips year after year? We have drivers that have graciously devoted their time to this department for over 30 years. We are the first person our students see in the morning after leaving home and the last they see before going home. We are their first and last contact, and we are that person that they can somehow confide in if needed. Imagine the bonds that are created when a student has the same driver year after year during their K-12 educational experience. We are not “just the bus driver”, we too are an integral part of their educational process. “Successful educators don’t just teach the appropriate behaviors once there’s a problem. They don’t just post the rules on the classroom wall like some of us post on the bus. Rather they have a curriculum where they teach the rules and expected behaviors before there is misbehavior.”

Did you know that our transportation department visits all the elementary schools in our district, and teaches the children about proper behavior on the bus, the reasons behind the rules, and about bus evacuation should there be an emergency? There is also a special program that we have been learning about at our special needs conferences, that I believe could really have a dramatic impact in the lives of our special needs students and their families. This program is called “The Bus in the Classroom”, and is designed to teach safety and life skills to these students as soon as they are capable of learning, ultimately with the goal of ensuring that they achieve independence. It is a program designed to ensure that special needs students have the adequate transportation skills long before their transition out of school. It focuses on teaching these students: 1) how to wait for the bus, 2) boarding the bus, 3) riding the bus, 4) exiting the bus, and 5) C.B.I (Community Based Involvement). This program is designed to help in transitioning kids from curb to regular stops, through repetition and positive reinforcement, by the 10th grade, so when they transition out of school, they are ready. This being called the “Independence Matrix.”

So, in conclusion, the reason I’m writing this is because I wanted to inform the people in our district, how vital transportation is to the success of our children’s educational process, and all that is involved, because it has changed me. In a perfect world, there would be a mutual respect between students, parents, transportation, and educators, where everyone is on the same page as far as what is best for our students, this including a student’s actual driver and aid being invited to IEP meetings. Believe it or not, a student’s driver and aid also need to know what is going on, should a problem arise, and should be a part of “the team” that decides what is best for that child. I once asked two of the coaches that I drive for, what they think about bus drivers, do most educators just think of us as “just the bus driver?” Their response to me was, “most of the drivers aren’t like you, Laura.” My response to them is, we are. Get to know your driver… I think that the stigma that has been put upon us has somehow cluttered the communication between transportation and educators, where some of our drivers almost feel that all they should do is drive, and this needs to be changed, because we are all on the same page, as far as our students. One last thing I would like you to consider, although we may not be qualified to do your job in the eyes of many, would you be qualified to do ours?

I just want to say thank you to this department for forever changing my life.