- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Barry Aucker and Ray Hoekman, drivers for Rohrer Bus Service, in the Lewisburg School District, have a combined 29 years of experience.

In that time, they’ve seen a lot - from a drug deal being carried on in the back of a bus, to students fighting, cursing and yelling to bathroom emergencies on board and more - all issues requiring instant decision-making by the driver.

“If you’re a parent with a child who rides a school bus, you couldn’t ask for two more cool-headed, patient and experienced drivers to deal with any situation that might arise than Aucker and Hoekman,” said Paula Brosius, supervisor, Rohrer Bus Service, Lewisburg.

Aucker is firm, and patient, Brosius said Thursday. “He drives the bigger, high school kids and students from Sun Area Technical School. His strength is his 19 years of experience. He notices differences in their behavior day to day. It doesn’t matter what the student has done. He will always look at the bigger, broader picture in that student’s life. After all, we’re adults. They’re not.”

Hoekman’s strength is his ability to talk to kids at their own level. “He really gets on well with them, and they understand it,” Brosius said. “Both drivers have a loving heart and a firm hand.”

Drivers need patience

“You need patience to be a good school bus driver these days,” insisted Aucker, of Watsontown.

Aucker said he is a disciplinarian on his bus. “I have to be,” he said. “Kids are different now than when I was a kid. When I went to school, if you behaved badly the bus driver took a hold of you. Now, you can’t touch or even holler at a student. Given the cameras on our buses there is nothing you can do on a bus today … everything is recorded.” There’s also the paperwork trail, that every driver must keep when there is an incident on a bus.

You have to establish discipline, he believes, but be flexible. “Although students have assigned seats, I will let them sit where they want to, with friends, as long as no one is disruptive.

“At the beginning of the year I explain to students what I expect on my bus,” Aucker said. “Safety is always our number one concern. You can’t be keeping an eye on children in the back of the bus while also watching the road. Watching the road is more important than watching the children, but I’ve had three fights in the last two years on my bus.” In one case, it was a shouting match that was getting out of hand. Aucker said he stopped the bus before it left the parking lot, and called a school counselor until things calmed down.

Busting a drug deal

Aucker said he had a drug deal go down in the back of his bus last August.

“There was a lockdown at the high school and I was on my way back from Sun Area Technical School. I pulled over at Colonial Candlecrafters and that is where it happened.”

The next morning, a student told Aucker he had witnessed a deal going down in the bus. “We checked the tapes and found out it was true. I don’t understand why kids don’t remember we have four cameras on board and tapes are made from those cameras.”

Sometimes the emergency is more personal.

“I’ve had younger kids have to go to the bathroom and we can’t stop, we’re not allowed to,” Hoekman, of Lewisburg, said. “In one case her stop was a last stop. I had other kids say, ‘It’s OK if she goes into my house.’ But I can’t stop and I can’t allow it. So basically she just had to go right there in the seat.”

Like Aucker, Hoekman believes school bus drivers have to establish good rapport with the parents as well as the kids on his route. “Kids, they know if you like them or if you don’t like them,” Hoekman said. “They can sense it. I get along well with all my kids.”

“You have to be a counselor and a good listener,” Aucker added. “I reward good behavior by telling my kids they are good students. If they are not behaving I tell them that also. It only takes one student to mess up the whole bus. I really don’t have that many problems, although when I do they mostly tend to be discipline problems, not fighting.”

Watching out for the kids

Safety of their kids in every way is paramount, beginning with the equipment Hoekman said. “We start our day, usually at 5:30 a.m. at the Rohrer office in Lewisburg, with a thorough mechanical check of our assigned bus or van.”

One significant way that life has changed for school bus drivers is the added emphasis on “under the hood” inspections, said Rohrer Bus Service vice president David Schrantz. “To me, that’s been the biggest change in the last few years. More and closer inspections on the equipment.”

After inspection, Aucker and Hoekman begin their day. Hoekman has two routes: first he picks up middle- and high-schoolers; then, after dropping them off at school, he picks up elementary school children. Aucker has a route involving taking kids to SUN Tech, in New Berlin. Two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon.

More and more is being asked of drivers these days, Brosius said. “We ask our drivers to watch everything on the bus, and make out reports when a situation arises. We expect more from them. It’s not just get behind the wheel and drive.”

Brosius recalled how things have changed over the past few years. “We watch for predators,” she said. “We watch for indications of child abuse.”

She recalled a time when she was a driver and encountered a situation that today, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State, would have meant a call to Child 911. “I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Neither did my supervisor at the time. But today, when a child comes on the bus and is regularly dirty, or doesn’t seem to have taken a bath recently, that’s a red flag,” she said. “Years ago, we would call the school and make out a report. Today, we call Child 911, and make out a report. Children and Youth or the police follow up and investigate.”

Safety guards

Another safety guard Rohrer asks drivers to do with kindergarten-age kids is match up the child with their parents at the afternoon stop. “Drivers will keep the kindergarten kids on the bus if they don’t see a parent,” she said.

“If anybody follows one of our buses for quite a while and we know that someone is following us, we notify the supervisor and she calls the police. They will come in a hurry,” Aucker added. “We’ve had people follow our buses for miles and turn the same places we do. We’ll call and say someone is following our bus and we don’t know who it is. Nine chances out of ten, I think it is a parent following to see how the bus driver is driving. But that’s my opinion. We did have a problem last year with the same vehicle following buses in Lewisburg, Mifflinburg and Danville. I don’t know if the police ever got this person.”

Aucker and Hoekman both said they wouldn’t be doing this job if they didn’t like it - despite the short and early hours.

A beginning driver, said Rohrer Bus Service vice president David Schrantz, makes on average $12 per hour. In time, that can rise to $14. “We try to give them at least two hours a day,” he said, “but one of our drivers can make $50-$60 a day. There are also bonuses and the opportunity to do extra work, like driving a team to an event on a Saturday or at night. What drivers - and everyone on staff in a district - makes depends on the amount of money the district pays the bus service. It changes from district to district.”

Besides Lewisburg, Rohrer provides buses for the Selinsgrove, Mifflinburg, and (a few) for the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit; they have hired 143 bus drivers in those districts. The drivers have to be re-certified every four years. But they are constantly being trained in how to write their reports. The company’s fleet is driven by more women, 54 percent, than men.

Tests from older students

Christina Lust, of Lewisburg, drives middle and high school students to school in one of her runs, and then pre-K kids. “I think sometimes the older kids have tested me, thinking they can get away with things. But I have had the same route since 2012 and I’ve seen many of the same kids grow up. They understand that I hold them to the rules. I also have a good relationship with their parents.”

Lust said that her treatment by the company and the district has been on an exact par with her male counterparts. “No problem there,” she said.

Committed to job

Aucker and Hoekman said that despite the increased responsibilities, the training, and need to recertify, they are committed to the job because of the kids.

“I love them,” Aucker said. “I did Kelly Elementary School for 14 years and I love that those students have now graduated and I’ve seen them graduate. It’s a challenging job, no doubt. It’s not an easy job. Not everybody can drive a school bus. You need patience driving a school bus. Every day is not the same and everybody has bad days. Students have bad days. I have bad days. But I really enjoy it; as far as them growing up, kindergarten to high school and to see the difference in behavior, it’s neat to see that.”

Hoekman concurs. “I’ve had the same run for eight years and I’ve watched kids come from the middle school into high school and some are out in college now. It’s nice to see them grow up and in some way be a part of their life. Every morning, I say good morning and at night, ‘Have a good one. Get your homework done.’ I really love it.”

It’s that simple touch at the beginning or end of a day’s route that can make all the difference in a student’s behavior, Brosius added, agreeing with Hoekman. “Quite often, both parents or single parents are at work. Sometimes a ‘good morning’ said to someone getting on the bus is the first good morning a student hears, and a ‘good night,’ the only time they hear that before they go to sleep. It’s sad. But it’s more common than you might think.”





Information from: The Daily Item, https://www.dailyitem.com

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