Coweta bus drivers strive for trust and respect
by Celia Shortt
Throughout the course of a school day in Coweta County, many different people will impact Coweta students, but none more so at the beginning and end of the day than the bus drivers.
“Providing just a smile and a kind word can set the tone for the day,” said Coweta County School System Superintendent Dr. Steve Barker. “They (bus drivers) can set the tone for the student for the day. They care about the students who ride their buses.”
Part of their caring, is impacting and protecting the lives of the students on their buses. Recently, Coweta bus drivers Jill Jackson and Pam Perry were honored for their actions as bus drivers and employees of the Coweta County School System.
For Jackson, being a school bus driver was a natural transition as she is an experienced driver and trucker who has had her own business. Being a bus driver is also a comeback career for her as she was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer - cancer of the appendix - and did not think would recover.
Jackson had surgery and six months of chemo to fight the disease. After she started to heal, she began looking at what job she could do where she could have a little bit of fun and have health insurance. She settled on bus driving.
“I feel so lucky to get hired after having such a bad cancer,” said Jackson. “Having a different perspective after almost dying, makes me thankful I can make a difference.”
In October, Jackson's bus was approached by an unknown adult who asked for a particular student by name and claimed to be the student's relative. Jackson followed standard protocol and notified the school transportation office. The police did become involved but found no threat to the student.
Perry worked in the medical field for 26 years and had been at home for two years before becoming a bus driver. She became one because she wanted to work in the public in a nurturing way. Bus drivers wear several different hats, she said. Sometimes you are a babysitter, sometimes a caregiver, and sometimes an extended family member.
“A bus is a classroom on wheels,” she said. “Our responsibility is to get them home safely. It’s a huge responsibility.”
In November, Perry was driving her bus when a student approached her and indicated she was choking. Perry stopped the bus and performed the Heimlich maneuver. She contacted the school transportation office, and Coweta EMS was dispatched.
She credits her past career in the medical field with giving her the ability to do the Heimlich maneuver and help the student on her bus who was choking.
“I was just blessed to be familiar with and know the Heimlich,” she said.
Every day, regardless of the circumstances, both Jackson and Perry want to impact the students who they take to school as they ride the bus.
“I teach respect for each other on a day to day basis,” said Perry. “They have to have respect for each other.”
Perry teaches the kids to be nice to each other, including saying nice things out loud about each other. Manners are another item she wants them to learn. So she makes sure each of the students says, “Good morning,” to the principal when they arrive at Brooks Elementary and disembarks from the bus.
Jackson wants the students on her bus to relax and trust that she will get them home safely.
“I just want them to have a happy and safe ride home - to feel safe on my bus and trust me,” said Jill Jackson.
In regards to their heroic actions, both are humble about it and thankful that at the end of each, everyone was okay and made it home safely.
“I think it’s nice receiving these awards, being the first ones,” said Jackson. “There are so many bus drivers, doing great things.”
“(The awards) set the precedent for other bus drivers, that good can come out of bad things,” said Perry. “(It) shows the community that these drivers do a good job and their kids are safe on the buses.”