February 22 marks School Bus Driver Appreciation Day, and this year we celebrate the day by sharing about a few of the exceptional people who transport Osseo Area Schools scholars to and from school each day.
Note: Due to weather cancellations, Osseo Area Schools will celebrate School Bus Driver Appreciation Day on Wednesday, March 1.
Jim Ullmer and Steve Aljets - Bus 588
Jim Ullmer and Steve Aljects have worked together for two years, driving special education scholars to and from school. Ullmer and Aljects work with scholars at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Ullmer, who has worked as a bus driver for six years, drives the bus while Aljects, who has been an ESP for 14 years, helps the students get on and off of the bus and with any issues they might have during their ride.
Both Ullmer and Aljects, who began doing this job after retiring from previous careers, agree that their favorite part of what they do is the kids. They love forming relationships with the students and that each day looks a little different. They enjoy watching the students progress and grow each year. Ullmer and Aljects work together as a team to deal with anything the day brings. They try to be consistent each day so that the students know what to expect and what is expected of them.
“I just enjoy it every day,” Ullmer said.
“What keeps me coming back is the kids,” Aljects added. “We get very attached to some of these kids.”
It is evident the relationship that Ullmer and Aljects have built with their students by the greetings and fist bumps they receive. They know each of their riders and what they want and need to start and end their day. At the end of the year, they give out ridership awards to their riders to celebrate the growth they have made that school year, which is appreciated by both the students and their parents.
“It’s nice seeing the changes the kids make over the years,” Ullmer said.
Both Ullmer and Aljets believe it is very important in what they do to coordinate with staff members at the schools, as well as with the parents/caregivers of the scholars. They know that having all of the knowledge and facts will allow them to be better at their jobs.
“It is nice to go to a school and have a former rider come up and say ‘Hi Steve!’ and ‘Hi Jim!’” Aljects said.
Ronald Nash - Bus 226
Ronald Nash has an easy laugh and a calm, friendly demeanor with his young charges. He completes four bus routes every morning and four every afternoon during the school year, and he also drives for summer school.
Nash worked for the U.S. postal service for 31 years before he retired nearly four years ago and took up bus driving as a retirement job, in addition to being a pastor.
“It has been an interesting adventure,” he said. “Every morning there is something new. The kids make me laugh.”
Nash calls his job as a school bus driver “somewhat of a dream job,” where he can laugh, talk, and sing happy birthday with the students. Nash waits patiently for any children arriving at the last moment and greets students by name, offering a smile, compliment, or word of encouragement or cheer as they pass by him.
Many students bring a little nugget of their experience from the day that they want to share with Nash, whether it’s to tell him they can’t feel their cheeks from the cold, exclaim that they slipped on ice, or show him the wad of gum stuck to their finger.
One kindergarten student, Chloe, presented Nash with a hand-written note when she got on the bus on Feb. 10. She said a lot of kids like to give him notes and drawings, which he accepts with gracious enthusiasm, because she said he is friendly and funny.
“I’ve got some cool kids,” Nash said with a laugh. “They’re just really funny.”
“I just want to get them home safely,” he added, crediting the First Student dispatch team as invaluable in helping him accomplish that job. “And we work hard to make sure that happens every single day. We deliver the most important cargo in the world; nothing is more important and precious than they are. So we have an obligation to make sure they get treated with dignity and respect, and to make sure that they are safe.”
Mike Shannon - Bus 385
Mike Shannon drives one of the electric buses recently added to the fleet in Osseo Area Schools. He has been a bus driver for two years after retiring. He became a bus driver because he wanted something to do in his retirement and wanted to help during the bus driver shortage, and likes the routine of his job.
Shannon says that he really enjoys the new technology of driving an electric bus. His favorite part of his job is the kids. He greets them all with an enthusiastic “good morning” when they first get on the bus and gets them excited for their day. He knows each of his riders names and information about their lives and families. They show him the art work they made at school that day on the ride home.
“All of them are really good. I’m really lucky,” Shannon said.
Shannon enjoys working with the team at the bus company and school district, as well as the partnership that has been built between the two. He has noticed that everyone helps out and takes a route if they are short drivers.
“The people that I work with are awesome. Our goal is to get the kids there safe, that’s our objective,” Shannon said.
Safety is very important to Shannon, as he has to watch both what is happening in the street in front of him and what is going on in the bus behind him. He teaches the kids to not distract the bus driver, and explains why it is important to allow them to focus on driving while going to and from school. He is patient when he has to repeat things a few times or explain them in a different way so a student understands. He views the bus as an extension of the classroom.
“Kids are going to be kids, they’re not going to be perfect,” Shannon said. “Just respect them and they will respect you.”