Caught In the Act!

An American President once called for our nation to look for ‘a thousand points of light’ around our communities and neighborhoods. His call was for us to find ways to unite and to see the good in one another while also encouraging us all to find ways to help one another. 

In that same spirit, I got to thinking over the holiday season that there are thousands of school bus drivers (points of light?) who not only do good work in transporting our children each day, but who also go above and beyond what the job expects.

For instance, back in 2011 during Hurricane Irene which traveled up to New York State, dozens of young campers from NYC were stranded in the Catskills and needed to get home. Four drivers from the Delhi school district agreed to drive into the hills to get to those children. Because of the widespread flooding, they were accompanied by state police escorts. Over nearly eight hours, they drove them out of the storm into New York City and to safety.

And recently, I was touched by the CBS story about Curtis Jenkins, the school bus driver in Texas who invested in creating a positive community on his school bus and treated each child as an individual. “I put time, effort, love and care, understanding each and every one of those kids,” Jenkins told the interviewers. Click here to read the story.

Clearly, drivers don’t all have to be heroes and rescuers or TV news features to earn our attention and respect. So many of them do their jobs admirably and often do not get the credit they deserve. School Bus Driver Appreciation Days are wonderful moments in time that allow us to recognize them for the valuable work that they do…but are they really sufficient?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could now and again ‘catch’ our drivers in the act of doing something special for a child or a parent or a fellow driver or aide? It wouldn’t take much and certainly wouldn’t cost much to do. A state office I worked at had a program which encouraged employees to take a half page pre-printed note, fill in the blanks and present it to a co-worker who had done something beyond the call or that was just ‘nice’. It created community and mutual respect and even some laughter at the things that people did or how they were celebrated.

Especially at a time when we are struggling to find and to retain drivers and other staff, it becomes important that we create a positive workplace that engenders employee engagement and enthusiasm. GALLUP (a national survey and polling company) suggests that ‘employee engagement is a foundational component to workplace outcomes.’ Hundreds of companies, domestic and overseas, invest in employee recognition efforts from the simplest to the more involved…for that very purpose of incenting employee engagement and garnering employee enthusiasm. And they will tell you that it works!

Our own industry surveys draw us to similar conclusions. Drivers have made clear that the wages/benefits/hours are an issue to be addressed. But they have also told us that work environment, management support, recognition, and community are just as critical. That fact makes it incumbent on us all to pay attention and to do all we can to recognize and celebrate drivers, not just once a year but every day of the year.

We all know how often the media and even school officials and parents are critical of bus drivers when they do something incorrectly or inappropriately or even illegally. As I searched for stories about drivers for this article, the vast majority were about drivers who did things wrong and were headlined in the local and even national media. In each case, the criticism may have been deserved and, in those cases, hopefully the drivers and our profession learned something from it that will improve our future efforts.

But the dearth of ‘positive’ stories was striking. Methinks it’s time to change that and get those good stories into circulation. That would allow our drivers and our industry to ‘bank’ those positive stories as a balance of sorts to the mistakes and wrongdoing that will inevitably occur and be covered widely. And to be clear, I do not in any way minimize the dangers and impact of such occurrences on our children. Indeed, I see them as hurting our industry and in need of correction and prevention. But that doesn’t lessen the need to promote the good and the positive.

Maybe it’s time for school bus drivers to be ‘caught in the act’ of doing good! What say you? It’s a new year with everyone telling us what they are doing to improve themselves and make things better in their world. Isn’t this something that we can resolve to do as a profession and an industry? Catch a driver in the act of goodness and then make their day with a smile and a good word.

I don’t know about you, but I think it could work! Give it a try and wait to hear more on this idea!

Peter Mannella ( is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.