It’s that time of the year when kids head back to class. But, the people who help them get there and stay there — school bus drivers, lunch staff, office staff, custodians — are getting back into full swing as well. You may have already seen some yellow buses on the roads in the past few days; school bus drivers need to practice their new routes before the big day begins.
KERA North Texas’ Stella Chavez tagged along for the ride with a longtime Fort Worth ISD driver.
It’s still dark outside as hundreds of drivers make their way across a parking lot filled with buses in southeast Fort Worth. It’s also wet this morning.
“Was not expecting rain, but it’s a pleasant surprise,” says Delois Morrow, who’s been driving buses for nearly 40 years.
She’s among the 500 or so drivers, including substitutes, who work for the Fort Worth school district. Last year, nearly 20,000 students rode the bus to school.
After nearly four decades on the road, how does she feel about the first day of school?
“Excited, anxious and just a little uncertain about what the new [school] year brings,” she says. “Just expecting there to be some challenges but not any that we can’t meet.”
Students on her bus call her “Miss,” or “Miss Miss” when they’re trying to get her attention. Most of them are good kids, she says. Sometimes, they ask her about her family and how much money she makes. Sometimes, they share their own stories.
“You try to be as open with them as you can without going too far,” Morrow says. “You would be surprised at the things they want to confide in you. You just have to have that listening ear sometimes.”
Like the time a boy talked about his troubles at home.
“He confided in me that he just wanted his father to say no sometimes, just to be there for him,” Morrow says.
For the most part, traffic hasn’t been too bad this morning. That probably won’t be the case on Monday. During the past few decades, traffic has only gotten worse.
“There are detours, and then there’s construction and the lanes will be smaller,” she says. “And you have to deal with all of that – everything – and still be safe.”
Delois says safety is priority. Still, there have also been some dramatic moments. One icy winter morning 30 years ago, she was picking up students who attended a school for the deaf.
One student was walking across the street as an 18-wheeler barreled down the road. Morrow flashed the lights. She slammed on the horn. But the truck wasn’t able to stop in time.
“When the truck stopped, the young man was still okay. No scratches. No bruises. In between both tires of the front of the truck,” she says. “Had knocked him down and he was under the truck. And I thought that was very remarkable.”
Not all of her memories are that traumatic. Morrow says being a bus driver allows her to see and do things she never imagined.
“Who would have known I would have liked wrestling?” she says. “And of course you’re pulling for the students. If it’s a football game, you’re gonna pull for that team just because you took ‘em.”
On Monday, she’ll be pulling for all the new students, especially the ones on her bus.