Up bright and early (but often in the dark), Queensbury bus driver Gail Benson arrives at the district garage shortly before 6 a.m. each weekday to ready her bus for the morning run.
“I love driving and I love the kids,” she said.
With multiple runs spanning from early morning to late afternoon, Benson transports dozens of students every school day. As a bus driver, she provides the first and last point of contact for students on behalf of the district. It’s a great responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.
“I live for my job. The challenging part is not knowing what kind of day you’ll have,” Benson said. “If a kid is in a bad mood getting on the bus, sometimes we can turn it around for them.”
Benson has worked for Queensbury Union Free School District’s Transportation Department for the last 18 years. She started as a substitute driver, and transitioned into a full-time position two years after.
A typical day has Benson driving general and special education students, as well as GED and BOCES students. In between those runs, she often completes other driving-related errands, such as visiting job sites, or transporting students who attend school for a half-day. She spends her 40-minute, midday break crocheting hats and mittens for her grandchildren.
“At the start of every school year, my grandmother would crochet hats and mittens for me and my siblings,” Benson said. “It’s a nice memory, and I like to keep up the tradition with my grandkids.”
After the mid-to-late-afternoon runs, Benson returns to the garage and typically heads home between 4:30-5 p.m. Yup, that’s a nearly 12-hour workday.
“Everyone in the transportation department works hard and it’s not often recognized that our jobs are important,” she said. “It seems simple to jump in a bus and take the kids home, but it’s not a simple job at all.”
The district’s transportation fleet travels 680,000 miles each school year, often in adverse weather conditions and unpredictable traffic, to deliver students safely to school and home. The team of 55 – which includes office staff, mechanics, drivers, aides and substitutes – has an outstanding safety record, and is regularly recognized by the New York State Department of Transportation.
At the end of the day, Benson says members of the department know they’re transporting a precious commodity – the students entrusted to the district’s care.
“You really feel like you’re accomplishing something with them every day,” Benson said. “It’s nice to be part of the everyday process for them.”
Over the last two decades, Benson has seen many of Queensbury’s students grow up while riding on her bus. But she says her most favorite memories will always be her morning runs on the first day of a new school year.
“The kindergartners are the best! You get to see who’s going to take it worse… the kid or the parent,” Benson said, laughing. “It’s one of those moments that the parents and we as bus drivers, never forget.”