Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Bus drivers go extra distance

        It's still dark when Jeannine Sporing gets to work. Cold most mornings, too. She gets the routine out of the way by 6:30 a.m. Walks all the way around the big, snub-nosed yellow bus. Kicks the tires and tests the lights, wipers, brakes, emergency door, back-up beeper.

        Then she climbs aboard Sycamore Community Schools' bus No. 27 for the part of her job that is never routine, never mechanical: her passengers. Loud ones and shy ones. Kids in high school. Kids in preschool.

        Cooties, wedgies. The good, the bad and the ornery. Jeannine can see it all in her big rear-view mirror, probably has seen it all during the past 21 years as a driver.

        “People just think you get in the bus and drive. But it's a lot more complicated,” she says. She gets to know neighborhoods, writes down the license numbers of cars that look suspicious.

The referee

        Once, during an acrimonious divorce and custody battle, Jeannine was entrusted with the family code word. A little girl on Jeannine's route, a transplant patient, gets headaches. Jeannine knows the signs. And knows what to do.

        But most of the personnel matters are the ones we all remember. For instance, not too long ago a couple of boys were trading punches across the aisle.

        “Well, I just listened to them a little bit and heard them talking about wrestling. I told them my boys had been high school wrestlers.” Pretty soon they were having a conversation.

        Having six kids of her own and taking them everywhere in a “big old Mercury” was probably pretty good informal training. She says she likes kids, and I'll take her word for it. Certainly, there are easier ways to make a living.

        The thing is, she knows she is doing important work. “Kids get a feeling about school and how their day is going to go right when they get on the bus,” she says.

Hearing impaired

        A couple of kids who ride her bus this year have impaired hearing. Jeannine would flicker her interior lights when she wanted to catch their attention for one reason or another. Even just to get their eye for a smile or a wink. But that was not much of a conversation.

        Sycamore drivers often transport students to St. Rita School for the Deaf in Evendale. Jeannine and some of the other drivers asked Sycamore's transportation manager, Janet Schultz, if they could take sign language classes on their break.

        Janet Schultz, being of extremely sound mind, said yes. Of course. Absolutely. Right away. Now nine drivers and three bus monitors are learning sign language. Besides the alphabet, one of the first signs they learned was “sit down.” OK, these are kids. Not saints.

        Anyway, Jeannine couldn't wait to show off after her first lesson. A little boy, a student she's known for three years, got on her bus. She stopped him and signed her name. “I felt like a little kid myself,” she says.

        This nice woman, grandmother of nine “with another one on the way,” knows how to move kids from one place to another. “We think about safety all the time,” she says, and I believe her. But one of her best moments as a bus driver, in my opinion, was the day she took her hands off the steering wheel to have a conversation.
        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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