Safety Is Number One For Bus Drivers
"There's an awful lot to it," said Steve Switzer, Pettisville school superintendent. "It's probably one of the hardest jobs."
After all, it's not just quieting 40 or 50 kids at the railroad crossing.
"Safety is number one," said Diane Nafziger, who has been an on-the-bus instructor at Pettisville for 10 years.
Considering they're responsible for the lives of so many young passengers, it has to be.
"To know that we have all these lives in our bus, it's very sobering," she said. "It needs to be sobering at times."
As an OBI, Nafziger, a 20- year bus driver, has trained 10 drivers in her efforts to encourage safety.
It's a big task. She has to make sure the seven regular and 18 total Pettisville drivers stay current on new regulations. Certification for rookie drivers requires 12 hours driving practice.
Nafziger said her students practice more than the required 12 hours.
"We go over and over and over and over."
Practice makes perfect.
Nafziger especially stresses procedures for picking up and dropping off passengers.
She said the process requires that the driver indicate a certain number of steps. Disembarking students must walk in front of the bus. Drivers then signal students to cross the road by flipping their right-hand palm from face-up to face-down.
Before starting, drivers make sure the number of students that exited the bus matches the number waiting at the stop.
When Switzer talks about the "intricacy of procedure" now facing bus drivers, he's not kidding.
At Pettisville, Switzer said 264 students ride eight 45-minute bus routes organized by Amy Frey, transportation coordinator.
Phil Rychener has driven bus in the Pettisville district for 30 years. He knows all about the pre-trip bus safety checklists, cleaning and refueling his bus, and the challenges of working with children.
Yet, he said, getting to know the kids is the best part of the job.
"They can be a little ornery," he said. "But they're good."
Protecting his young passengers is pressure he feels, especially in foggy or icy conditions.
"It's not fun to be out there in a school bus with a busload of kids in that kind of weather," said Rychener.
Beth Wanemacher, who oversees and plans the 12 Archbold bus routes as the district's transportation supervisor, knows that like the weather, children can be unpredictable.
More than once, a driver has notified her that a student who should be on the bus is missing.
"That is the worst," Wanemacher said.
She personally searches for the student in her car by predicting alternative routes the child could've taken- and always had success.
"We haven't lost one yet," she said.
Within a week, Archbold buses drop some students off at up to three different destinations, from piano lessons or Fairlawn Haven visitation to a baby-sitter or the homes of separated parents.
"We want to do the best we can to help the parents," said Wanemacher. "If it's within our route, we try to do our best."
Students with complex schedules must confirm their changing destinations with Wanemacher and the school office.
They also bring monthly calendars showing dates of their various destinations to give to eight school staff, including Wanemacher and the bus drivers.
Multiply that scenario by the 759 Archbold students who daily ride the bus.
Problems occur when students deviate from their schedules, or there's a substitute driver on the bus.
"There's a lot of little things that go into it."
It's easy to see how confusion could arise. Sometimes, she said, the school can't accommodate every change. The full buses just don't allow the desired flexibility.
Loving The Job
Yet, she said she loves her job.
"I have 12 wonderful bus drivers that love their job," she said. "That makes me love mine."
Rychener believes the love for the job is the same at Pettisville.
"I've enjoyed it," he said. "I think all our bus drivers can say the same."
"To be in this profession, you have to enjoy children," said Nafziger, who also gives bus safety presentations in elementary school classes.
After all, bus drivers have much ability to impact their passengers. As Nafziger remembers Switzer saying, bus drivers are the first people students see in the morning and the last they see at the end of the school day.
Even with all the safety procedures, a bus driver can only do so much if vehicular motorists aren't cautious, too.
Nafziger said cars have even passed Pettisville buses on the right berm.
"They need to realize that there could be a student crossing," she said.
"Please be aware of school buses, especially when they have the warning lights on."