Bus drivers shift gears in routine


September 03, 2002|By Debra Taylor Young | Debra Taylor Young,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST WEEK, PARENTS, students, and school administrators faced many challenges typical of the first week of school.

The focus shifted from the relaxed, carefree days of summer to new schedules, routines and the structured regime of a new school year.

School bus drivers also did their share in contributing to the success of the hectic first week of school.

Since the opening of Century High School, some drivers' routes include students from two high schools on the same bus.

The number of combined buses is down to six this year, with four that combine South Carroll High School students with Century High students, and two that combine Liberty High School students with students from Century.

For the bus drivers, this means starting the day a little earlier, with first stops beginning as early as 6:30 a.m.

It also means a longer ride for the students, said driver Theresa Stigler, who has been driving for 15 years in Carroll County and drives one of the combined buses.

She noted that this year's schedule was an improvement over last year's, when her students from Century had to wait 20 minutes on the bus in the parking lot of South Carroll High before the students there were dismissed.

This year, the wait has been reduced to about 10 minutes because of the addition of five minutes to the school day. South Carroll and Liberty added the time to the beginning of the day and Century added its time to the end of the day.

"Things are better coordinated, and the kids come out within minutes of our arrival [at South Carroll]," Stigler said.

Along with the challenge of accommodating two high schools on some buses, the drivers are also confronted with other first-week problems, such as learning their routes and stops, and making sure children are on the proper buses.

This is especially difficult at the elementary school level where pupils often get confused about which bus to catch, said Theresa Bly, a driver for 13 years.

"The first week is terrible," Bly said. On her first day of school, she learned that a kindergartner had mistakenly gotten on her bus at one of her elementary schools. Once Bly discovered the mistake, she had to notify the school and take the child back.

Carol Swomley, assistant principal at Century High School, also discovered an interesting problem for the buses arriving at Century High. The spaces for the buses are not large enough.

According to her calculations, the buses require one and one-half spaces to properly line up for afternoon pickup. She said she was working to have the lines corrected.

She also noted that some of the new housing developments in the south Carroll area brought in more students than expected, causing four of the buses to be crowded with as many as 59 students.

Sixty is capacity, but uncomfortable for students, she said. The crowded buses were arriving late to school because of the number of stops. She said school transportation officials would review the situation and make adjustments to move students to less-crowded buses.

In spite of these challenges, many of the drivers said they love their job.

The drivers sometimes arrive at least 30 minutes early for school dismissal. After properly lining up their bus, they chat with other drivers, who are often longtime friends.

"This is probably one of the best jobs I could have," said Steve Dunn, who has been driving for two years. "I love it." Dunn and his wife, Jan, are both drivers for Carroll County schools.

"Driving the bus is fun," Jan said. "The dress code is great, pay is good, and the hours are great. Bus drivers all get along so well. It's like one big family."

Bly, whose route includes Century High School and two elementary schools, also enjoys her work.

"I like being with the kids," she said.

Apple Festival coming

The Apple Festival at Piney Run Park is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 28 on the park grounds. Volunteers are needed weeks in advance to help make signs, make phone calls to confirm other volunteer commitments, and assist with administrative activities, said Deanna Hofmann, festival chair and a naturalist at the park.

Volunteers are also needed to help bake apple pies, apple dumplings and cookies.

To volunteer and help support Piney Run Park and the Nature Center, call 410-795-6043. The festival will take place rain or shine.

Debra Taylor Young's neighborhood column appears each Tuesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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