Behind the Scenes in the Transportation Department
Last year, the Queensbury Transportation Department logged more than 650,000 miles driving students from home to school and back again. Behind the wheel for some of those miles was Vernon DiThomas, a permanent substitute school bus driver for Queensbury Union Free School District.
“It’s actually great, I love it,” he reflected after a recent morning drop off. “You never have a boring day when you’re dealing with kids because they’re always energetic and moving. It keeps you young and fresh and on your toes.”
DiThomas’ workday starts early, but that doesn’t change his positive attitude. He reports to the Transportation Department by 6:15 a.m. to get his daily assignment, which might involve substituting for another bus driver or serving as a monitor on a bus with a lot of students. There is a daily demand for substitutes, so having a permanent position means he reports to work every school day.
When he has a driving assignment, DiThomas begins his duties by checking the bus from front to back.
“You’re checking the tires and making sure the bus is in good, working order. Then you leave to do your run,” he said, describing his morning routine.
Most school bus drivers complete three runs in the morning and in the afternoon, one each for high school students, for intermediate and middle school students combined, and for elementary students. High schoolers are the first on and off the bus each school day, while elementary students are the last.
“After you drop the kids off at the high school, usually you only have a few minutes before you’re heading right back out for your next run and doing it all over again,” said DiThomas. “There are many runs in the Queensbury school district. As a substitute, you can drive any one of them at any given time.”
That level of flexibility requires a lot of training and preparation. DiThomas, who is also the parent of a recent Queensbury High School graduate, began his driving career with the district seven months ago after first attending a district job fair. He shadowed many different bus drivers to learn the job and the Queensbury bus routes while earning his commercial driver’s license at the district.
“It’s a little intimidating when you first start driving a bus, but the way they drive, it’s very easy. They handle really well for a big vehicle,” he said of the classic yellow school bus with its red flashing lights.
DiThomas has found that managing student behavior while driving is a greater challenge than the actual act of driving, but that challenge makes for an interesting work day.
“Everyday you come to work, and it’s different. Your morning shift flies by, you go home for a few hours and that drags, and then you come back to work and the afternoon shift flies by because you’re constantly doing something and thinking and keeping yourself active,” he said.
DiThomas enjoys the mid-day break between his morning and afternoon shifts. It is a unique feature of the school bus driver job, one that appeals to him as a dog parent.
“I get a lot of things done during the break. Plus, it works because I have two dogs and they can’t last eight hours in the house!” he said, laughing. He also uses the break time to prepare meals, mow the lawn, rake leaves and go for walks.
DiThomas said school buses have changed a lot since he rode them as a kid on Long Island. The need to maintain student safety remains the same, though.
He encourages parents to support that effort by “reminding the kids that the school bus is an extension of the school and to try to maintain themselves in a manner that they would in the classroom.”