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Driving the kids back to school

Thursday, 12 September 2013. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Driving the kids back to school

Bus driver Albert LaGrandeur and First Student location manager Sharon Roberts with a new model of school bus. Brad Quarin photo

Driving the kids back to school

By Brad Quarin

With school back in, many people think of children adjusting for another year, parents preparing their supplies and clothes, or teachers mapping out their strategies. But it’s also back to school for the men and women who drive the buses.

“It’s the best job I could have asked for,” says Leah Sciarra, a bus driver and student transportation secretary in Crowsnest Pass.

As a mom, it’s been great to be able to take her children on field trips, and she’s known many of the other children for a long time. She’s been driving bus since 1993, regularly since 1994, so some students have been with her from kindergarten to Grade 12.

For her, this is an exciting time, because the children are excited. Even if some of them don’t relish the work, they are thrilled about the social side of school, Leah says. She has fun talking to them about what they’ve done with their summer, and enjoys returning to her routine.

Albert LaGrandeur of Pincher Creek has been driving bus for even longer than Leah, since 1967. Sharon Roberts, location manager for the First Student Canada bus company, believes he’s one of the longest-serving drivers they have.

Aside from transporting the children, it doesn’t much feel like Albert has been away from the job. The summer is short, Sharon says, and drivers spend some time getting set for another year.

“I enjoy the kids,” Albert says, as he finds them entertaining, even if sometimes they can drive him crazy. “They always come up with something different.”

He gets a kick out of one youngster who asks him every day if they’ll likely have a snow day, no matter what the weather.

A particularly crazy memory comes from the 1980s, when he was driving in deep snow. The bus powered out going up a hill, and a Grade 4 student declared a snow day and jumped out of the bus, hurrying home by following the bus tracks. His dad picked him up in a tractor, brought him back to the bus and got it going again.

As a new year gets going, Sharon and Albert keep their advice for young children riding the bus simple, namely to sit and listen to the driver. Parents should know where their children have to wait for the bus and should encourage them to listen to the bus driver.

Leah adds that parents should dress their children appropriately for the weather, and children should keep the noise down while the bus driver is at work. The talking happens at pickups and drop-offs.

For first-time riders, orientation just before the school year starts is a help. St. Michael’s School, Canyon School and Livingstone School all had orientation for kindergarteners recently, and Sharon went to some of them.

“It was great fun, the kids loved it,” she says, noting they got cool handouts such as colouring books and magnets, teaching them about bus safety.

Albert once took young twins very afraid to ride the bus on a tour of the block with their mom. “They thought that was the greatest thing in the world,” he says.

By the time students reach their teens, they know the routine of riding the bus, Leah says. The main thing they ought to remember is that what they say and do should be appropriate, because they are riding with young children.

For Sharon, the start of the school year is a busy time. The buses are thoroughly cleaned at the end of June, and inspections and servicing take place throughout the summer. Then she assigns new drivers, has them test out the routes and registers the students. She handles Pincher Creek and Lundbreck.

Some bus drivers drive 100 or 200 kilometres every day, Sharon says. Leah says her route, from Hillcrest to the other side of Crowsnest Pass, requires three hours of driving a day.

It’s worth it. At the end of the day, Leah says, she finishes work with a smile.




From the Sept. 4/13 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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