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Kinders are often the most well-behaved on school bus
When only one kindergarten student is forgotten by their parent at a bus stop, it’s a good day for a school bus driver.
Bremerton School District bus driver Krystle Macfarlane only had one student left at the end of her route Monday afternoon. September 9 marked the first day of school for kindergarten students in the district and is generally the most hectic day, the bus driver said. Before working as a bus driver, she worked as a tour guide in Alaska.
“I think today we got it pretty easy,” said the seventh-year veteran. “This is a good day. They’re being good kids today.”
Upon arrival at Armin Jahr Elementary on Monday afternoon, Macfarlane took roll call to make sure she had all the correct students on the bus. The “kinders” — as staff kindly call the newbie students — boarded first and were seated in the front of the bus. Backpacks marked with yellow tags indicate new kindergarten students, and upon arriving on the bus, Macfarlane stamped their hands to make sure she’s got the right students to take home.
“I try to organize myself,” she said. “(Losing students) happens a lot in the beginning.”
Prior to letting the students off the bus at school for the first time, she insists the kids recite which bus they are on prior to exiting. As a challenge to herself, she tells every student on her bus that she will try and learn their names by the end of October, a month into school.
“Once you know their names, they kinda can’t get away with anything,” she said with a laugh.
The first day, however, is always full of rules being spouted off by Macfarlane. Surprisingly enough, it isn’t the newbies who need a talkin’ to, but the seasoned older students who get a little antsy on the ride home. It seems as though Macfarlane always has her microphone in her hand where it is then pressed against her mouth as she gives orders.
“Keep your feet and hands in your seat.”
“Stay on your bottom.”
Every few minutes, Macfarlane looked in her rearview mirror to scold students not obeying rules. As an experienced driver, Macfarlane said she knows when she’s got a hyper fifth-grader on her hands. She can pick them out of the crowd right away, and she generally assigns them a “job” in order to keep them occupied and out of trouble.
“They like to help. It lets them focus on that,” she said.
“It’s never the kinders bouncing around. They usually want to listen.”
Macfarlane was right on the money when it came to her newest riders. The kindergarten students were quiet and observed their new surroundings, stayed in their seats and watched as the scenery passed by in their rectangular windows. Views of lakes, million dollar homes and mountains came into full view as the bus bounced along its route.
“I got pretty lucky,” Macfarlane said of her views along the way.
The driver has an opportunity to see the views a few times on the days when parents forget to pick up their kindergarten students.
With 25 buses in route at eight to 10 stops per bus, someone is bound to fall asleep, get off at the wrong stop or forget where they get off. For the first week, chaos is expected, and somewhere around a dozen students or more are left in school offices across the district. Despite Macfarlane’s large mirrors and best efforts, the bus seats are tall enough to hide children. Even a short adult’s head is unlikely to be seen above the high seats, which can lead to kids being left behind on the school bus.
“Last thing we want is the parents calling,” said Bremerton School District Student Transportation and Safety Supervisor Marco DiCicco. The district transports about 2,200 students each way, which translates to about 40 percent of the student population, he said.
“Truly this is the safest way to get to and from school,” he said of the buses. Although the buses are without seat belts, DiCicco said the special design of the seats -- as long as students are properly seated -- is meant to keep them from harm. Bus rides are also considered safer than walking to school or riding a bike, the transportation supervisor said.
DiCicco said the job traditionally went to retired folks. But now, everyone from housewives to former Navy chiefs take on the part-time job as a bus driver. DiCicco said the first week is generally hectic because parents forget route times because it is their first time dealing with bussing their kindergarten students. The schools, however, take extra measures and lining kids up next to a pole with a coordinating bus letter, so they know exactly where to go.
“The kinders we want to make sure are in the right spot,” DiCicco said. “We’ve never lost anybody.”
On Monday, when Macfarlane didn’t see one tiny, blond kindergartener’s mom, she promptly returned back to school after the route. It is district policy that a parent be waiting at the bus stop to pick up their kindergarten child every day, she said. The only exception is if an older sibling rides the bus and can walk home with the student, or if another approved guardian is waiting at the stop.
Not once did the braided pig-tailed student cried. She obediently listened to her bus driver, and quickly got off the bus at school and held Macfarlane’s hand to the front office once back on campus. The office receptionist made a quick phone call and found that the parent thought the stop was several minutes later than it was. Upon hearing the student’s parent would have to walk to the school to pick her daughter up, Macfarlane offered to take the kinder back to her stop.
The driver said parents forgetting pick-up times is a common mistake the first week of school. It is especially common on Wednesday, an early release day, Macfarlane said. It’s generally an honest mistake and usually gets better once families settle into a routine.
Despite the ruckus of a first day, DiCicco and Macfarlane both agreed they enjoy what they do because of the kids.
“What I like is how small they are and how wide-eyed they are,” said DiCicco. “Just seeing the kids get excited about school (is the best).”