Albert Ross is only one example of a school bus driver being much more than simply the person who drives a school bus full of kids.
Ross, a driver trainer for San Antonio Independent School District in Texas, was stationed at Fort Hood, in Killeen Texas, and served in the U.S. Army. In August 2004, while serving in the 1st Cavalry Division, he was out on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq.
“We normally do these check-ins with the community leaders in each different part of Baghdad,” he recalled. “We were stopping to do a check-in, and we were there too long so unfortunately, we were ambushed.”
Ross was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and was also shot in the right foot. He lost his left leg as a result. “It was a trial to get through,” he explained of navigating the injury and recuperation process. “It took me about a year of rehab to get back home and get back on my feet before I retired from the military.”
Following his retirement, he became a truck driver for four years. However, he said, he was ready to marry his then-girlfriend and now wife, and he wanted a job that took him off the road for long periods of time.
“I was looking for something that I could still continue to drive, but that was impactful,” he said. “I’m really active at my church, and I work a lot with the kids and so it kind of clicked. ‘Oh, well I can go drive buses and work with kids.’”
He noted that the process to obtain his CDL to drive school buses was hard, adding that it was easier to get his Class A license to drive trucks.
“I remember when I went in for my DOT physical, the actual doctor tried to convince me to do another job for the district,” he remembered. “And I was like, no, this is what I want to do.”
He remembered the doctor telling him there were going to be a lot of hurdles to overcome, but Ross said he was willing to put in the work.
“After paperwork and paperwork, I finally was approved and they gave me the waiver to allow me to drive,” he said, adding that Feb. 6 marked his fifth year at SAISD.
“I love this job,” he added. “I don’t want to do anything else. I love it here. I love the atmosphere. I love the feeling of family here. And I love the impact that we have with the kids.”
Ross said he’s currently driving a general education route, but during his second year at SAISD he drove a special education route. “I think that was really impactful for [the students] because they got to see somebody with a special need actually performing work,” he explained. “That lets them know that even though I may have this disability, I can still be productive. It was good for them to see that.”
He added that he’s known around the district for having the “most decked-out bus.” He continued, “I feel like if you’re going to be an impact to the kids, you’ve got to make it fun.”
While School Transportation News was on-site at SAISD, Ross’ bus was decorated for Mardi Gras.
Related: Texas School District Celebrates Technology, Green Energy and Positive Employee Culture
Related: Texas Team Wins Return of TSD Roadeo from COVID-19 Hiatus
Related: Texas District to Transition to all Electric School Buses by 2035
Related: School Bus Driver Recognized for 50-Plus Years Behind the Wheel
Related: The Road to Becoming Director
He said in terms of his management, Director of Transportation Nathan Graf is the only manager who’s given Ross his personal phone number and invites calls him and texts to answer questions. “Whenever I see a bus comes out with something new, I usually text him or I share with him via a video and I’m like, okay, this is the new release,” Ross explained, adding that’s how the district was able to purchase new IC Bus models equipped with the Bendix Wingman Fusion technology. Editor’s Note: Read more about the technology at SAISD.
When asked his thoughts on the stigma that school bus drivers are “just” drivers, he said he does feel the community sometimes treats school bus drivers like Uber drivers. He said despite parents expecting drivers to turn around if a student is late, or be on demand for their family, he said he tries to explain to the parents that he’s not Uber and that his student passengers are his “babies.”
“I look at it bigger than that,” he said, adding that there are times that he goes back to a house to retrieve a late child. “I don’t look at us as just bus drivers. I look at us as part of the education team. And part of the of the delivery, but we have the most impactful part because a lot of times the things that [students] won’t tell the teachers or the principals, they’ll talk to us about, especially with some of our kids that fall under the McKinney-Vento [Homeless Assistance Act.] You run into things that are going on at home, and sometimes we have to be that word of encouragement.”
He remembered one time telling other staff members that he was going to buy shoes for one his students because he noticed the child needed them.
“And the next day, I come to my bus and there’s two pairs of shoes on the steps,” he recalled. “So now instead of just getting one pair, [that student] got three. And so, it’s things like that, like we were trying to impact these kids’ lives because even the little, small things that we do, make a big impact.”