Bus ride highlights Michigan School Bus Safety Week
Tecumseh Herald staff writer Deb Wuethrich rode a Lenawee Intermediate School District (LISD) preschool bus on October 16 to commemorate Michigan School Bus Safety Week, October 15-19. LISD serves approximately 300 students on its 17 buses throughout the day. Former Sheriff Richard Germond, a LISD School Board member since 2005, also rode the bus driven by Candy Diaz. Tina Torres serves as the bus assistant on the daily run.
At 10:40 a.m., bus 05-01 swings into the LISD Transportation parking lot behind the Milton C. Porter Center where Richard Germond and I have been talking to Transportation Supervisor, Jaki Smith. This is the third run of the day for Candy and Tina who started their first runs as early as 6 a.m. and will finish their day by 5:30 p.m.
It’s a golden-hued fall day as we head toward Tecumseh to pick up our first rider on Billmeyer Hwy. The short bus with several booster seats rattles, squeaks and jiggles our insides as we go.
Candy maneuvers the bus into the driveway and Tina goes to the door to help Colin Ameel up the steps. He enters, happy-faced and talking about his new hat, telling everyone he got it at “Wacky World.”
Soon we arrive at Burt Street for Bennett Andrews. Tina lifts the blonde fellow into his seat and tells him, “We’re gonna give you a hug with your seatbelt,” the phrase she uses to alert the kids that it’s going to be tightened.
Curly-haired Nate Wiebusch gets on at River Acres, and Candy and Tina fuss over his new glasses as he settles into a seat next to Richard.
Back on the road, Tina asks Bennett what he had for breakfast. “Soup and toast?” Tina asks and Bennett laughs, correcting with, “Cinnamon toast!” When Tina asks why he didn’t bring her any, he says, “Tomorrow.”
A former stay-at-home mom, Tina has worked for the LISD three years and had to take specialized training to be prepared for medical or crisis situations that might arise at any time during the course of her day.
“You have to have the attitude that you’re not going to break down,” she said, adding that during emergencies, the training kicks in. Asked what her favorite part of the job is, she doesn’t hesitate. “The kids.”
While we talk, Nate reaches over and pats Richard’s face, happily chatting with him. Tina notices and interjects a calm, “Hands to ourselves, please. Thank you.”
In Roberts Meadows, identical twins Ashton and Braxton Graham board wearing silly hats and sunglasses.
“We’re still trying to tell them apart,” said Candy. The boys wear buttons to help with identification.
“Hey, Ashton?” Tina asks as the first boards. He smiles and nods as Candy and Tina shout, “Yay, we got it right.”
Soon, we’re heading down Occidental toward Adrian.
“This isn’t like a conventional bus run that starts and stops along a prescribed route,” Richard comments. He said with all he knew about the LISD during his tenure as Sheriff, being on the board has opened his eyes to the amazing array of services that the district offers, including special education and career technology.
Lillian Brasington, dressed in pink, boards at Kiowa Court and spends a complete minute kissing her grandma and grandpa goodbye in the stairwell. “She does this every day,” says Candy.” The adults sidle up to the bus as close as is safe to watch Lillian get settled. Others have done the same, with Tina coaxing the kids, “wave and blow kisses,” and it strikes me how these professionals have gained the trust of the parents and guardians. The buses truly do carry precious cargo.
Tina and the children banter as the bus rolls down M-52 at a pretty good clip. Candy’s eyes, seen in the large overhead mirror, constantly rove in awareness of the traffic around her and occasionally lift to view her passengers. She also monitors the radio that keeps her in touch with new information.
“We’re doing good,” says Tina, noting the time for Candy, who’s adjusted the route for absences. Candy has been driving for LISD for seven years, and had to pass Commercial Driver License testing, attend bus training in Jackson, and keep up with continuing education.
“My grandmother, Barb Schuch, was a bus driver here for many years and she loved it,” said Candy. Her sister Kasha also worked as an assistant. “But I knew I wanted to drive. I really enjoy it.” It can be challenging accommodating for every student’s unique special needs, but she said they do the best they can in the confines of a school bus.
There are stops in Adrian and I’m amazed at how Candy smoothly skims the bus past parked cars, ever on the lookout for hazards. She said the biggest problem is that motorists still seem confused by the school bus lights, and occasionally drivers will run the red flashers.
“We can use the hazard lights [yellow] at most stops now, and it’s supposed to be safer because we’re not stopping a whole line of traffic, but people aren’t always sure what to do,” she said. As with traffic lights, red means stop, yellow means caution.
On Lenawee Street, Kiara Wilt, is led to a seat next to me, and then bright-eyed Makyah White boards at Croswell Street. Shy Kiara ducks her head, then suddenly reaches into her pocket. She holds something in the palm of her hand and wants me to look. It’s a small rhinestone that might have come off an item of clothing. Kiara smiles when I comment, then guards it like it is a treasure. I think, “Kiara and her friends are the real gems.”
At the LISD TECH Center lot, a second bus comes alongside so the two vehicles are door to door. Tina takes firm hold of three of the children and leads them to the second bus that will take them to their preschool class at Porter Center on time. One little boy, Ian Clark, is transferred to Candy’s bus, and strapped in with a “seatbelt hug,” though he will only travel around the parking lot to the TECH Center entrance. At the correct time, Candy and Tina hand-off the children to classroom staff, sharing the latest information on each.
With successful delivery, the bus heads back to the garage. Candy and Tina will squeeze in lunch before they head out to pick up students again and safely deliver them home to points throughout the expanse of Lenawee County.
“What I find most rewarding is how the kids look forward to seeing us every day,” said Candy. “Of course there are down days, but it really makes us feel good when parents appreciate us — and we can tell that they do.”