Behind The Wheel: Guilford County Schools Bus Drivers Tell All

What School Bus Drivers See Behind The Wheel

WFMY News 2's Erica Stapleton talks with three Guilford County Schools Bus Drivers about the job:

JoCarolyn Wilkins (JW) - driving for 28 years.
Greg Foushee, Sr (GF). - driving for 5 years.
Shelby Moore (SM) - driving for 21 years.

What got you into this?

SM: I love serving the public and I love working with students. It was meant for me to be.
I love helping one another and I feel like I’m a mentor toward the student and I feel like they need my help.  In other words, I’m more than a bus driver, I just love to be their mentor.

What do you all love about doing this?

JW: Well I saw the big yellow bus going down the street one day and I was like I wonder if I could do that? And I tried it. And I came to love it. I’ve been driving for 28 years now. I love coming in, working with the students. My kids are grown now, so I have some little ones I can work with. And try to guide them in the right direction.  We pretty much look at bus safety being first.  Once the kids get on the bus, we have a lot of safety behind it and we want to teach them that. 

Why is it important to teach the kids about bus safety?  What do you do to make sure they are safe?

SM: I go out with Gus the Bus, Greg and I.  We go around to the different schools that invite us and we teach  the students about bus safety, on the bus and off the bus.  It’s very important to keep the students safe, because, you know, a lot of drivers out here are not aware of the stop arm and the procedures.  So it’s best for us to inform the students so they will know to be aware to look out for the vehicles as they’re approaching our buses. So it’s very important to teach our students safety so we can keep them safe. And not depend on drivers who are not always looking out for their safety.  

How often do you see other drivers on the road ignoring those rules that you guys know they need to be following? 

SM: Very often, very often.  We have a lot drivers pass our stop arms, a lot of drivers don’t know when we’re going to make our stop.  Only the driver knows where the student is going to come out at. Students can come from the left, students can come from the right, so only the drivers know.  They see our yellow flashing light, which is our amber light, which is okay, they haven’t picked up their student yet.  We have time to go past the bus.  So it’s very important I teach the student safety, wait until you see the red light approach the bus and the door opens and the stop arm comes out. Then you know it’s safe to come to your bus.  But on the other hand, other drivers don’t know that, so students get anxious and run to the bus. It goes hand in hand with the students and the driver so we’d like to teach our students to be safe. 

JW: Like Shelby said, we have a lot of drivers that once they see that yellow light, well I have time to pass that school bus, but we are dealing with smaller children starting with the age of four to 17,18-year-olds and our younger students they are really excited about getting on that bus and their attention span is not as mature as an older student so we just want the regular drivers to know to look out for the students and show them respect and just stop. Because that child, if that child is on the left hand side of the street, that child could actually forget that we have new hand signals by law now and just run across the street, so we’re just thinking of safety first. If we could avoid an accident and the driver in the car can avoid an accident we really would appreciate everybody working together.

What message do you have for other drivers on the road?

JW: I feel like something needs to be done at DMV to assist the drivers to make sure they’re looking for the bus drivers and those yellow lights and also, the driver that's in the car working hand in hand so they really really need to pay attention to those yellow flashing lights and just stop.  because they only have to wait for less than a minute so if you could stop to try and prevent an accident, that would be wonderful. 

What is the craziest thing you’ve seen someone do while you’re out driving, keeping kids safe, keeping yourself safe. What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen from other drivers on the road?

GF: Personally I’ve seen a driver come right up to the stop sign, pass the stop sign and stop after they’ve passed the stop sign after they’ pass the stop sign on the bus.  Well, it’s useless then. You’ve ran through the stop sign already. So, I’ve seen that happen a couple of times.

JW: I’ve also seen drivers on the phone.  I see this a whole lot, drivers on the phone, not paying attention to the yellow lights and just run the stop sign, like Greg said, when they get up to the stop light on the bus, or pass the bus light then they think oh my god I just ran the stop arm.  And we have kids getting on the bus and getting off the bus and it only takes a second, a split second for you to have a serious accident.  We want all drivers out there to focus on - try to stay off the phone until you’re parked. And we just want a safe year for everyone. 

What other concerns do you have for drivers on the road?

SM: My concern is they are speeding.  When they see we’re going to make a passenger stop they’ll speed up and try to pass the bus before our stop arm comes out and like I said, if we’re picking up in the morning then that’s an issue right there, because the student is getting in a hurry and they’re in their mind like ‘Okay, I’ve got to hurry to the bus.” So, we teach them safety, but some of them just get anxious and run to the bus but if the driver is in a hurry and tries to beat the bus and the student is running too, you know.  It don’t come out to end up very well. We just want to send a message out to all the drivers, school will be starting Monday and for everyone to have patience with us.  Just have patience and just let us go through our proper procedures to pick up these students and let them get on the bus and wait until our door closes and wait until our stop arm comes in and then it’s safe for them to go ahead on and proceed on toward their route.  Just be a little patient with us.

GF: Education to the public is very important, and maybe you can help us with this.  A lot of times I just don’t think they know what the lights mean - the drivers.  The yellow caution light means we’re getting ready to make a stop.  And like she said, I think sometimes they want to beat that light before the red lights come on. So education, I think, to the general public, would be helpful for them to know what the lights are for and what they stand for.  Because I’ve had a lot of parents ask me, 'Well, what do yellow lights mean?’ and ‘What do red lights mean?’ and they don’t even know. We can know this ourselves, but if the public doesn’t know, I think that’s what causes the problem, they just don’t know.

What age range do you pick up?

SM: I’m a special needs driver. So I pick up elementary and middle school students, so it can range from anywhere, 5 to 6 starting.

JW: I am a magnet school bus driver so we go on the outskirts of Guilford County and my age group on my bus at one time is from 4-year-olds all the way up to 17-18 year olds.

GF: And I’m an elementary, middle school and high school.  So I have them all.

What is it like working with kids? 

SM: I love it.  I love working with kids. I love working with students because I love working with children. So, I love my job!  I don’t find myself being anywhere else but here in the school system. I feel like this is my place to help.

GF: I’m a former firefighter so having a background in that, we used to go out and teach stop, drop, and roll to a lot of the kids.  So I’ve always dealt with them in that manner and it’s just been a pleasure to deal with it.  I’m also Gus the Bus now. It’s just a joy to see the smiles on their faces and how excited they are.

JW: I love doing my job.  The kids are really excited getting on the bus and meeting the bus drivers and other new students, so we look forward to welcoming those students with a smile.  Saying good morning to them because you never know what kind of day or night that they’ve had. So you want to greet them with a smile, and say good morning and when they get off the bus just let them know to have a good evening.

Kids you know, all ages, especially middle school, high school, they can get in fights, perhaps.  There could be signs of bullying.  Are you guys trained to deal with that? Because you are the adult in the situation.

SM: Very aware of dealing with bullying.  We’ve had some classes and tutorial sessions on that and we head that off before we get started, I know I do. I could see a comment, I just stop it right there before it gets started.   That’s something that’s not allowed on my bus.

JW: It’s not allowed on my bus either; it’s one of my little pet peeves. I don’t like bullying at all on my bus, so what I do is I talk to each individual student, I try to separate them if there’s a problem, and also talk to the other kids.We talk about bullying and that it’s something we just don’t do, because you never know how it will affect that child or those children when they get older.  So, bullying is not allowed in Guilford County Schools. 

Have you experienced bullying on your buses at one point or another?

JW: I have experienced bullying on my bus, and like I said, you just have to nip it in the bud once it gets started because you don’t know how it’s going to affect that child.

SM: I have experienced bullying. As a matter of fact, I experienced it last year.  I told the parent, to speak to her son and I spoke to the other parent and I made sure she spoke to her daughter and let them know that this was not allowed.  From that point, you know nothing escalated from it.

So, you guys have to pay attention to what is on the road, but also what’s on the bus. How do you deal with focusing on both? 

SM: Well, for 21 years it comes into a pattern; it comes together. It’s something we do and it’s something we’re accustomed to doing.  Keep our focus out there and on the bus, as well. Looking at our surroundings at all times and what’s going on.

JW: And it is really hard but you just have to keep your focus because safety is first. If you have to deal with a problem we ask that you just pull over to the side in a safe place if something is going on on the bus.  Take care of that problem and move on. If it’s something that can wait, just get with the principal and the student the very next day and try to solve that problem, but like I said safety is the most important part of driving a school bus. 

GF: I stress on the very first day that’s it hard for me to watch them and drive a bus, too.  So, if I take my eyes off of the road and watch them, then I could have an accident and I think a lot of them sort of understand that and I think it’s how you present it to them a lot of times.  And I try to break it down for them that way.  If I’m watching you, then I can’t watch the road at the same time and I think a lot of them understand that.  You’re always going to have those that don’t but the majority of them do so they understand what I got to deal with.

What is it like being a bus driver?

SM: It’s fun!

JW: Like I said, I love my job. Working with the kids because, if you kind of realize what we’re teaching the students - we have bus rules that kids have to go by and if you’re teaching those students the bus rules, when they get out of school, they will take those rules and apply it to getting a job.  You have to be on time to get the bus and if you’re late for that bus, guess what? You’re going to have to wait an extra 20 minutes. Getting a job and being on time. Learning rules, how to be respectful and how to communicate with others. What we’re teaching the students on the bus, the students can take it and use it later on in life and say, 'I remember the bus driver said this, said that,' how to react to a lot of situations. Especially bullying. If you’re teaching those kids the right things to do as far as bullying is concerned, they will be able to try and handle that when they get out of school.  

GF: Just have it as a mobile classroom.  It’s just an extension of the classroom you just left.  So whatever rules you have in the classroom, rules go the same here on the bus.  No cursing, no bullying, you know.  It works.  I think a lot of times is how you approach them and talk to them and they understand once you do that.  

So, it’s a huge responsibility?

SM:Yes, very. It is. Because you have other people’s children's lives in your hands.

JW: We have parents out there that are very particular about their children and if they know they can leave their child with a bus driver and feel safe to get them too and from school, it’s just a big relief to that parent. They would not be worrying while they’re going to work so it’s a big responsibility.

What is the least favorite part of your job?

JW: The least favorite part for me is a kid getting off my bus and feeling sad and being unhappy.  I want to know that that child is going to get off my bus and have a great evening or afternoon, so that bothers me when the child is sad getting off the bus.  

What concerns do you guys have as bus drivers that the general public might not recognize or think about?

SM: Please. We try driving with these buses and these buses are very large and for them to be patient again on the streets and the roads while we’re traveling with these students and their lives in our hands, because when it’s raining, we can’t stop on a dime. Please don’t just get in front of us and just stop on brakes. They don’t take into consideration that we’re traveling with these big buses that can’t just stop like that.  So for drivers to cut us off and just cut in front of us, just trying to pass us because they know we’re going to make a stop, I want to tell them to please be patient.  These buses can’t stop like they think they can stop, especially on a rainy morning. Foggy weather. It’s bad.

JW: Be safe and have patience.  Communication is the key.  If something is going on, don’t wait until it gets out of hand.  Make sure that you get with the school or principal. My parents, I communicate with my parents a lot, so if they have problems or concerns, I can talk to them for a couple minutes at the bus stop and also try to be on schedule so we have that great relationship and a safe school year. So communication is very important as well.  

Speaking of parents, are there things that you want them to know? Because they’re typically responsible for making sure their kids are at the bus stop at the right time, right place, picking them up, as well.  What are some things parents should know from your perspective? 

JW: Just to be understanding.  Try to have your kid out at the bus top on time so that we can be on schedule.  Because a lot of my parents, if I say I’m going to be there at 8 o’clock, they expect for me to be there at 8 o’clock a.m. to pick up their child. And with my route if I’m a few minutes late, they’re like ‘Okay, she’s normally on time. What’s going on?’ So they expect for me to be there on time so make sure they’re out there on time. 

You mentioned earlier, obviously, buses are very large. What is it like to drive one?

SM: I can drive a bus better than I can drive my vehicle, I can back it better than I can back my vehicle.

JW: For a new driver, it takes a little while to get used to it so like you said, we’re driving a big, large vehicle. And we’re having to do 2 or 3 things at one time, like every second we’re watching all of the mirrors on the bus and trying to look and make sure that everything is going okay with the students, as well.  So it’s a really big responsibility and it takes a split second to have an accident.  We just want to be safe, very safe.

GF: I would like to add, I get some of my students to help me.  We do have blind spots on the bus like you do in your car. And I have my students to help me, especially if I’m trying to back up. They’ll watch out for me and it gets them involved, too.   So it helps a lot with the behavior.

What is the best thing you guys have heard from a student? Either getting on or getting off the bus?

SM: Well, a lot of students like riding the bus because its big and its yellow and especially the little ones, they’re so excited about getting on a big yellow bus. So, a lot of them like riding a school bus.  They prefer to ride a school bus than their parents to take them.  It’s just sometimes the parents sometimes, have a little fear for them traveling on a bus rather than taking them to school, but other than that I think the student loves the bus. 

GF: When I get cards or I get drawings - I have a ton of these things and the kids tell me ‘You’re the best bus driver that we have.’ Those kind of things right there let me know that they do care, even though they may act up or whatever, at the end of the day. when i get those type of things, notes that i get sometimes, you know, it’s rewarding. 

JW: Same with me! The drawings, the kids, being on the bus and they draw pictures of me 'This is you bus driver!' So that’s really exciting.  And also when the children get off the school bus, I’m so used to saying have a good day, have a good day and by the middle of the school year, all the students on the bus when the students gets off the bus it’s ‘Have a good day! Have a good day!’ It’s just a fun thing and hearing that from a child turn around and tell me 'Miss Wilkins, have a good day!' It’s just great.

When you were younger did you ride the bus to school?

JW: I did not.

GF: I don’t think they had buses when I went to school.  I walked.

SM: Well, I rode one and it was a straight drive.  And I thought it was fun when I was smaller.  I see myself back in the day - took myself back to when I was a small person on a big bus. It’s enjoyable. 

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