Almost two decades as a school bus driver has kept Albin Weiler young at heart, and the students he normally transports have provided fodder for his daily writing.
Weiler said he jots down everything that’s happened during his daily routes in a journal because he doesn’t want to forget anything. He frequently shares the stories with wife Carol, which he added drives her “nuts.” But they make for riveting reading, so much so that he recently published his interactions with his students in a book.
He said,laughing, that he even tells the parents of the students on his route to watch what they tell their kids, as it’s going to get back to him.
It was while driving for Cobb County School District in Georgia, where he got his start in 2001, that one of his co-workers suggested he write a book with all the information he had collected. But Weiler said he dismissed the idea saying, “Give me a break, I’m a school bus driver.”
Later, while driving for Nordonia Hills City School District near Cleveland, one of his friends, Jim Scotti, was an English major and said he would edit the book. That offer got Weiler’s gears turning.
His first book, “Driven to Learn: Journey of a School Bus Driver,” was published in February.
It covers everything from distracted driving, route challenges, student management, the importance of relationships, and the funny stories and lessons he has encountered throughout his years as a school bus driver. Written from his perspective, “Mr. W,” as his students call him, takes readers through a collection of short stories that cover the good and bad experiences of a school bus driver.
“It took time to do all that and make changes and think how’s the book going to work,” Weiler explained. “But it’s got a lot of stories and anecdotes, you know about student behavior and bus driving, working with parents and a lot of different things.”
Weiler said he self-published the book and gives printed copies to anyone who wants one. He also encourages donations to UNICEF and the Catholic Relief Service in lieu of payment.
“God’s been good to me and he’s given me a lot,” Weiler said. “I consider it a gift to have the ability to do something like that. I was really pleased that I was able to provide this [book] for school bus drivers, school board members, administrators, and so on.”
The book is dedicated to the school bus drivers who make the ultimate sacrifice when transporting children. One of those drivers was Charles Albert “Chuck” Poland, Jr., who was shot to death on his Alabama school bus on Feb. 13, 2013, while trying to protect his 21 students from trespasser.
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“A lot of people don’t realize that [school bus drivers] dedicate their lives to being role models for their students,” Weiler explained.
He said that the general public seldom realizes that school bus drivers are first responders. He explained that in times of natural disasters, school bus drivers transport people to different communities and get them out of harm’s way.
A School Bus Calling
Weiler grew up on a small farm in Alliance, Ohio, and upon graduating from Central Catholic High school in nearby Canton, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his four years of service, he graduated from Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation Administration and a master of education with a specialty in school and community relations.
Prior to his career in student transportation, he worked for the municipal parks and recreation department for over 20 years, completing his tenure as director. He also served as the president of the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association and received the Chairman’s Award from the YMCA.
In 2001, Weiler, Carol and son Shawn moved to Atlanta. He recalled walking his son to the school bus stop every morning for the commute to his elementary school. Weiler said every morning he engaged with the bus driver in a conversation as Shawn boarded and got settled.
One day, as Weiler remembered, he asked the driver what it takes to drive a school bus. Weiler had been a city bus driver in 1972 and also drove senior citizens as well as people who attended the state fair and other activities. He said that he felt comfortable in his driving abilities.
While the requirements were different, he was able to fulfill those credentials and start as a school bus driver at Cobb County School District near Atlanta in 2001.
“I was beginning to learn that driving children in a bus was a little bit different,” Weiler explained. “Only because they were students, they were part of the school system. And I consider school bus drivers [to be] a part of the fabric of education. They’re an important part because they’re the ones that spend their time bringing the children to the school.”
He added that he’s transported students from diverse backgrounds. “You get different children coming from different areas of life … I think that’s really important to see each of them as unique to themselves. I enjoyed that, so it’s a lot of fun working with the children,” he shared.
However, four years after joining Cobb County, his family moved back to Ohio to take care of Carol’s parents. Weiler took a school bus driver job with Nordonia Hills City School District, located 20 miles outside of Cleveland.
Now, 19 years later, Weiler said his students keep him young and he loves the day to day operations.
Biggest Technological Changes
Albin said that has seen several technological improvements to the overall safety of the school bus, which creates a better environment for the students and drivers on board.
He said Bendix’s Wingman Active Cruise with Braking (ACB) system automatically decelerates the bus in case the driver goes too fast, which he added is a huge safety bonus. He said the sensor detects if the driver is above a certain speed and, if they are, performs adaptive braking.
Additional technological advancements he discussed are electronic pre-trip software and GPS capabilities. He said Zonar’s electronic vehicle inspection report (EVIR) saves him time on pre-trip inspections, as everything is digitized. He explained that he uses the tablet to check over 70 items areas on his bus. The system then creates a report that is electronically sent to the mechanic for verification.
He said having this technology allows for real-time diagnostics, as mechanics are able to see what is happening to the bus, almost instantly.
Another technology he discussed is the evolution of video cameras to record more than simply student behavior. He said Lytx Drive Cam technology sits either on the school bus dashboard or the windshield to record the driver.
“It’s primarily used [in my district] as a coaching system, as a tool to indicate what drivers are doing right and where they need correction and stuff like that,” Weiler explained.
Biggest Operational Change
One of the biggest operational changes was when his school district in Ohio decided to contract out its transportation to a private bus company in 2010. He said he was lucky because the company hired him, but Weiler struggled to balance that connection he had developed at the schools.
He now works for Peterman Bus, a subsidiary of National Express. He explained that he had to get used to a change in operations when the private company took over operations.
“It doesn’t take long to figure out that there’s going to be changes, obviously,” Weiler said, “meaning that before you were answering to the schools, now you’re answering to a business. And the business of course, is going to be [also] concerned about operational costs, data collection, mechanical operations. So, we’re going to be concerned about the number of hours drivers are putting in and there are more records being kept.”
When transitioning to the private side of transportation, he said satisfying the needs of the school district customer is paramount. But he Weiler said he also wanted to make sure he was still connected to the fabric of education and the students and administrators within the district.
“I always wanted to stay attached, even though the company was running an operation, I wanted to make sure I stayed attached to the school,” Weiler noted. “I did a lot of communication with them. I knew all of their names because when dealing with student management, you want to make sure that you’re able to call somebody up to help you when there was a discipline concern.”
To combat this, he shared that he always makes a point to know who the counselors and principals are at the schools he transports to.
Weiler said he also appreciates the incentives provided by National Express, such as buying safety vests for each employee as well as cleats for walking in the winter weather. He explained that one of the incentive programs is a safe driving award.
Above all, he shared that school bus drivers have a big responsibility, but they are not the only ones who should be recognized. He said there needs to better appreciation for the mechanics and the other transportation employees who are behind the scenes yet make sure school buses are running properly and operating safely.
“I feel that school bus drivers also have a high responsibility and I want to always make sure that I’m keeping up with all the safety issues and learning how to be a better bus driver,” Weiler explained. “I think that’s important.”