I am pretty red-faced about my complete ignorance of a group of unsung heroes currently on many of our school payrolls: the bus aides. I know the position has been around for some time – and it might even have occasionally crossed my mind to wonder what bus aides actually do. Let me just say that since a friend was hired on here in Urbana about six weeks ago, I have been thoroughly schooled in the ups-and-downs, the ins-and-outs, the day-to-day of bus aiding!
In my defense, I did not grow up with an aide on the bus – our situation could not have been more different than the one my friend encounters each day. In those good old years of minimal snow days and well before the invention of two-hour delays, Roy Shirk – as well as several other township residents – interrupted their farm work every morning and afternoon to traverse quiet country roads en route to Concord School. With no villages in our neck of the township, the riders on our bus enjoyed door-to-door service. Schoolkids grades 1-12 waited in their driveways or at the ends of their lanes for the bus to pull up, the same places we were deposited in the afternoon – no group bus stops for us. If there was any funny business while we waited, it was of the sibling variety.
My friend, a Millennial half my age, politely stifles yawns when I wax nostalgic about my bus experiences of yesteryear. Her transportation adventures, however, happen in real time as she and her bus driver make two rounds of stops each morning and afternoon to pick up and let off their assigned groups of preschoolers through fifth-graders. The two make a solid team for whom safety is of the highest priority. Having a bus aide to monitor student behavior allows the driver to concentrate on navigating his long yellow vehicle through or around poor weather conditions, railroad crossings, careless drivers, and roadwork.
My bus aide friend is responsible for several aspects of the kiddies’ ride to and from school. She organizes the children on the master list from the transportation office into seating charts, youngest up front ascending to fifth-graders in the back. She must make sure preschoolers and kindergarteners are accompanied to and from the bus stop by an adult, although she does worry about first-graders for whom that is not a requirement. She leads a group clap for silence at railroad tracks. She must also check the bus following each round for children still on board as well as wayward backpacks, random items of clothing, and stray school supplies. And she is on high alert for misbehavior. She settles squabbles, keeps noise to a dull roar, and disallows seat jumping, standing up while the bus is in motion, and object throwing. Basically, she is in the business of herding cats!
Obviously, bus discipline is as essential as it is difficult. Bus aides take care of the minute-to-minute action while bus drivers write disciplinary referrals that may lead to suspension or even expulsion from the bus. So different from my experiences in the last century when Mr. Shirk told us in no uncertain terms how it was going to be on his bus. If he had ever had to call my parents to report misbehavior, someone else would be writing this column!
As daunting as the job may seem, Miss DeeDee – as she is known to her charges – loves it all! Even in the relatively subdued mornings and certainly afternoons when everyone is all wound up, she fields constant chatter. Miss DeeDee, he poked me in the eye! Or I only slapped her because she slapped me! And Miss DeeDee, hurry! Put the window down! I have to wave to my grandma! Hysteria from a girl with her finger in the air: Miss DeeDee, I’m bleeding! Often student spotters volunteer to help: Miss DeeDee, crying in Seat 5 or hair pulling clear in the back. She nips sass and bullying in the bud and calms the masses in the face of detours: Where are we going? This is not the way to my house! My mom is going to be so mad!
But these kiddoes, as demanding and frustrating and impish as they sometimes are, have Miss DeeDee’s heart. She worries about the quiet ones, the sad ones, the ones who act out. But that heart can also melt in an instant with a pile of posies from the playground because I was thinking about you. She treasures a crayon drawing that I made for you and hangs it on her refrigerator. And Tooth Fairy tragedy averted: I have my tooth in my hand, but I might crunch it! Miss DeeDee’s wise counsel: It will stay safe and uncrunched if you keep it wrapped in this paper towel.
Now that I understand all that is required for this position, I am totally impressed with Miss DeeDee’s conscientious approach to her work. I recently asked about her favorite part of the new job. Her immediate reply: the kids!
Hopefully, all bus aides work as hard and have as much fun as Miss DeeDee. Make no mistake, however. The name, bus aide, is hardly an accurate job description. These folks are, in actuality, bus moms and bus teachers watching over the precious children they help to transport each day.