The January 2020 issue of School Transportation News magazine featured school bus drivers who went above and beyond the call of duty. The drivers were nominated by supervisors and peers and recognized for various “heroic” acts, such as safely evacuating students from a crash, using training to help a student who became unconscious during the school bus ride, and even starting a program to provide formal prom dresses and suits to students in need.
This school year, so many bus drivers are putting their health second to their focus on the students they are transporting, or food and homework supplies they are delivering.
For instance, Gerald Shadrix and his grandson Landen were delivering their weekly meals on April 19 during the initial closing of schools due to COVID-19, when they smelled an odor coming from one of the homes they delivered to. During the meal delivery, they noticed the female resident wasn’t acting like herself.
That’s when the woman became aware her stove burner had been left on for at least 12 hours. “Gerald normally goes over and beyond the call of duty, even on his regular bus route,” Tara Pitts, transportation director at Knox Community School Corporation, told School Transportation News at the time. “His students know that he cares about them. His parents know that he is going to take excellent care of their children. So, this was no surprise to me … and that is what makes him one of the best bus drivers. Because he connects with his students, and even though these are not his regular [route] students, he still connects with them.”
A similar situation occurred a week earlier in West Virginia, when the meal delivery team of retired teacher’s aide Eva Rogalski, school nurse Tiffany Heinzman, and school bus driver Jeremy Shepherd quickly jumped into action to save a woman inside from a burning house. The Wetzel County Schools employees noticed smoke coming from a building across the street. After getting closer, the trio noticed that a had fire started on the pouch of a house and was quickly spreading.
While Rogalski and Heinzman were alerting the woman that her house was on fire and evacuating her, Shepherd grabbed the school bus fire extinguisher and began dousing the flames. He noted that in another three to four minutes, the entire house would have surely been engulfed in flames.
Since then, STN has also reported on school bus drivers returning to work after their own house burned down, school buses and drivers being used in fire evacuation efforts, and a driver saving a 7-year-old student from choking while onboard the school bus.
Related: Alberta School Bus Driver’s Home Destroyed in Fire, Still Reports to Work
Related: School Buses, Drivers Assist Oregon Fire Rescue Efforts
Related: Florida School Bus Driver Saves Seven-Year-Old Student from Choking
In addition to the stand-out performances in the 2019-2020 school year, many drivers stepped up and delivered meals and homework packets. School buses in some cases even delivered Wi-Fi hotspots to students, with little-to-no recognition. Ryan Gray, STN editor in chief, wrote about the importance of recognizing these “essential heroes” in his Editor’s Take this month.
When asked in a recent reader Trends survey reported in the January magazine edition, many transportation directors cited their entire transportation departments, as opposed to selecting one individual, when asked to share heroic acts. “I believe that this year all my bus drivers and bus aides are heroic with all the additional tasks they have inherited due to COVID-19,” Jose Fernandez, director of transportation at South Antonio ISD in Texas, said. “They have done an amazing job ensuring the children are safe on a daily basis.”
Anthony Quaranta, director of transportation for Owego Apalachin CSD in New York state, expressed a similar sentiment in the survey. “All of our bus drivers and aides performed heroic acts. Since March we have been delivering anything and everything to the students in our district including food, iPads, science projects, books, etc. Whenever a school building wanted something done, they stepped up,” he said.
As schools nationwide are starting to transition back to in-person learning, school drivers are once again stepping up and transporting students, despite the fear they may or may not have in relation to transporting students amid a global pandemic.
“My drivers are heroic every day by putting their health at risk to make sure that our students get to school and home,” said Tamara Weaver, transportation supervisor at Springfield City School District in Ohio.
Kristy Drewitz, transportation coordinator for Madison-Grant United School Corporation in Fairmount, Indiana, had a similar feeling. She told School Transportation News, “We were very fortunate to have all of our drivers return to start the 2020-2021 school year. The attitude of our transportation department — drivers, mechanics, and supervisors — was to do our part to safely get the kids back in school by following our corporation’s reentry plan. Drivers have been great about communicating when they have or may have come in contact with a positive case of COVID-19. Drivers have been tested or even quarantined when necessary.”
STN and professionals throughout the industry have used the saying, “Not all Heroes Wear Capes,” when posting on social media about drivers saving students from school bus fires or pulling students back as a vehicle passes by the right-side of the bus. But this year, the term encompasses something different. It encompasses an industry that continuously goes above and beyond their job descriptions, despite the risks it could pose.
Yet many still don’t see the work as an act of heroism.
“I don’t know [if] I would call it heroic; it is just the drivers doing what they always do, showing mercy and grace to our students every day,” Katrina Morris, transportation director for West Shore ESD in Michigan, said in the survey. “The drivers are truly here for the kids, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep them safe and in school.”
Meanwhile, Glenn Sykes, director of transportation for Alamosa School District in Colorado, cited Jeremy Silva, the transportation coordinator for the district, as his department’s “hero.”
“He has secured grant after grant to keep food and other necessary supplies flowing into our district and community to help our students and families,” Sykes said. “Some of this money has also allowed our department to help keep drivers working during the shutdown.”
Sykes said Silva used his experience working for a Catholic charity to track down grants and convince the community to help the district. Currently, Silva is running a shoe and coat drive for the students in the community as well as continuing to raise funds for the district’s food delivery program.
Alamosa School District, like many other districts around the nation, started providing food delivery back in March at the onset of school closures. Sykes said now, even with the district being in-person Monday through Thursday, transportation is still delivering between 100 to 200 meals every Friday, which is made possible with the help of Silva.
Keith Paulson, the transportation director for Anoka-Hennepin Schools in Minnesota, said it best in his survey response: School bus drivers and monitors are our front-line employees. It’s also the people behind the scenes that help keep transportation departments running and funded amid COVID-19, as Sykes pointed out.