Over 1,100 students enrolled in Marietta Public Schools to begin the 2021 school year. Some of those students walk, some drive, and some are delivered by parents, but a good number of them ride those big yellow school buses every day. And each one of those big yellow buses has a dedicated individual whose job it is to deliver their precious cargo to and from school every day.
For many people, myself included, driving a school bus would be akin to being beaten with a sock full of nickels, but for bus drivers, it’s all just a day in the life.
And speaking of a day in the life, for many bus drivers, particularly those who drive in the county’s rural schools, that day starts awfully early and sometimes lasts pretty late, too.
Marietta’s route drivers are Harry Jessie, Steven Henson, D.J. Peterson, Sara Gore, Josh Bazor, Eric Gallaway, Chris Dobbins, Jennifer Dobbins, Lantze Blevins, Courtney Starsick Anderson, Yesenia Sanchez and Amanda Ramos, all of whom are employed as teachers or support staff at the school.
Starsick Anderson is the middle and high school choir director and runs one of the town routes and has for about 10 years. The town routes are the district’s shorter routes and much coveted among the drivers.
“I used to drive the Loves Valley route which was an hour and a half per trip, but then one of the other drivers retired and I got her route,’ she said. “Now I drive about five miles and my route takes about 20 minutes – unless there’s a train!”
Starsick Anderson got her bus license when a former administrator told her that if she wanted to take her choirs on trips she needed to be able to drive them. Once she was licensed, transportation director Jeral Berry told her he had a route for her.
“I didn’t necessarily want it, but I took it,” she stated, “and it worked out well because I used that extra money for dance and piano lessons for my daughter.”
Longtime band director Eric Gallaway started substituting on routes when he started teaching at Marietta 27 years ago. Substituting morphed into driving the Shady Dale route fulltime. The route is about 15 miles round trip and takes about an hour to run, maybe a little less in the morning because he picks up fewer riders.
Gallaway, like a lot of others, started driving to help out the school and earn some extra money for himself; now he’s got a kid of his own in college, and that extra money helps pay her expenses.
“Driving a bus isn’t that hard, it’s actually the best seat if you’re on a bus,” Gallaway explained, “but there is some stress as far as the responsibility for the kids’ safety.”
Twenty-seven years of driving a bus means that Gallaway has more than his share of “puke” stories, another common theme among bus driver stories. He’s also had several “lost” kids on a bus.
“Years ago, before the elementary started putting names and phone numbers on kids’ backpacks, I was substituting on the Loves Valley Route and I had a little kid who never got off the bus,” said Gallaway. “I finally asked her where she lived and she said ‘Waffle Street.’ Well, there’s no Waffle Street in Loves Valley, so I asked her for her parents’ names and she told me Wallace. About that time there was a driveway marked Wallace. I was pretty glad to see that.”
Gallaway offers as friendly advice to parents: “For your child’s and you bus driver’s sake, please teach your kids where you live!”
Josh Bazor, the FFA/Ag teacher, has been driving a bus in the district for 22 years. He’s been a full time route driver for about 10 years, driving one of the shorter town routes. And Bazor, another one of those folks with kids growing up fast, drives to earn a little extra money.
He’s also had his share of “lost” kids.
“When I was driving the Enville route I had an extra kindergartener who lived in Enville, but had been asleen on the bus and rode all the way back into town,” said Bazor. “It’s funny now, but wasn’t so funny then, when I had to drive all the way back out to Enville to take him home.”
For Bazor, one of the most unexpected benefits from driving a bus route is being a rock star to the younger kids.
“Since I teach middle and high school, I don’t get to interact with many of the elementary kids,” he said. “Driving a bus gives me the chance to do that. They’re like little sponges that soak up everything and they can be really entertaining.
“The public might not know this, but bus drivers are famous people in grocery stores. Plenty of times when I’m in a store, I’ll hear, ‘Mom, look, it’s my bus driver, Mr. Bazor!’”
There’s no doubt that it takes someone special to drive a school bus route. One must be dependable, responsible, patient. It doesn’t hurt to be unaffected by vomit. But there are positives, too. There’s a little money involved, you get to know a lot of people and see a lot of the countryside. And maybe best of all, you can be a rock star to a lot of kids, all while delivering precious cargo to school and back home every day.