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Schools’ Unsung

Heroes: Bus Drivers By Caroline Anneaux

Before the sun rises every day, a very special group of people make their way to the local schools. These men and women arrive with coffee cups in hand and smiles on their faces, and greet one another like family would. At 6 a.m., they are ready to get into their big, yellow school busses and begin a one-and-a-half to two-hour route to pick up children at bus stops all around town. A lot of you might still be asleep as they crank up the busses, turn the lights on and get the heat or air conditioning going. By the time the first student is picked up, the temperature is just right and ready for the trip around the county as the bus follows specific routes through neighborhoods and on the local highways, gathering children at every stop and taking them to their respective schools. In Iva, Tracy Smith-Richardson and Betty Paul have driven almost the same routes over and over since the late 1980s. Both of them love their jobs and cannot imagine doing anything else after all of these years. “I took this job 27 years ago when my children started school,” said Smith-Richardson, driver and third-party tester for bus drivers. “I loved the fact that I could stay at home with them when school was out for holidays, teacher work days and summer vacations. It just made sense. Now, my three children are grown, and I still drive children around every day.” Right now, Smith-Richardson drives routes for elementary, middle and high school in the mornings and elementary in the afternoons. This is pretty routine for most of the bus drivers in Anderson County schools. They also pick up extra routes on the activity busses for summer programs. As a third-party tester, she works to train, evaluate and test prospective and bus drivers. “Twenty-eight years ago, I was driving my four children to school, so the idea of driving a bus really appealed to me,” said Betty Paul, like Smith-Richardson a bus driver in Anderson School District Three. “I also

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“I also enjoy driving the activity buses for field trips and sporting events. I love to participate in the activities along with the students and chaperones.”

enjoy driving the activity busses for field trips and sporting events. I love to participate in the activities along with the students and chaperones.” Times have definitely changed over the past 30 years. Now busses have heat and air-conditioning, GPS systems, special mirrors and lights and cameras. SmithRichardson and Paul remember when the busses were very basic. “We drove manual transmission busses,” said Paul. “I also remember laminated cards we carried in case we broke down. It had our bus number, the driver’s name and the phone number for the school. We would just send a child to the nearest house to ask the homeowner to make the call to the school for us. Can you imagine if we did that today?” she asked, laughing. “I remember freezing or sweating on the busses when I first started,” said Smith-Richardson. “Now, we have temperature-controlled busses which are so nice to drive.” Even 35 years ago, high school students were handed keys to a bus and given a route. After a few 6

July/August 2018

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