By Susan Flynn
School bus driver Michelle “Mitzi” Roy has friends who say they would never want her job – too much responsibility for all those kids and too many headaches from all those kids. But the view is different from where she sits.
“I was a single parent working at a convenience store working 100 hours a week to support my 9-year-old son and I never got to see him,” says Roy. “Everyone who came into the store worked at the bus yard and said that I should get a job there.”
So she did. Eleven years later, Roy is not only still driving, but also a certified trainer for fellow bus drivers. In June, she competed for the first time in a bus “Roadeo” sponsored by the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts and finished second out of 27 competitors. She was also named Rookie of the Year.
Roy is now remarried with a 7-year-old daughter and still appreciates her family-friendly job. She drove the bus while pregnant, up until four days before she delivered her daughter, and she returned to work with a 3-month-old co-pilot. “My daughter’s a pro at riding the bus,” says Roy.
We recently caught up with Roy, who drives in Groton for the Dee Bus Service, and learned that the back seat is still where the cool kids like to congregate.
How do you keep order on the bus?
I’ve never really had problem kids and I’ve been lucky. It’s just like at home. You have to set the rules and then they know what’s expected of them. It helps if parents enforce the rules. Make sure the kids know you can’t stand up on the bus, or eat on the bus, and in the school yard, they should keep away from the buses. A lot of times the kids know they can’t cut between the buses but parents are holding their hands and leading them that way.
Do other drivers respect a school bus?
Other drivers are terrible. People will do whatever they have to do to make sure they are not stuck behind a school bus. You have to make sure you have plenty of room to pull out because people will speed up so they don’t get trapped behind you. Sometimes, drivers will go through [a bus’s] flashing red lights. We have specific forms that we will fill out and send to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. So people should know they can get a ticket even if the police aren’t there.
What might surprise people about your job?
I’m not sure if people know we all get criminal background checks. We also get a pre-hire drug test and random drug tests throughout the year. In Massachusetts, we have to have eight hours of safety training every year and get a physical in order to renew our school bus driver’s license. The state really tries to make sure the drivers are safe. These are our kids. I have a kid who takes the bus every day and I wouldn’t want just anyone driving her.
Shouldn’t school buses have seatbelts?
No, it’s not safe. If I had to evacuate that bus and say there were six or seven kindergartners who couldn’t get their seatbelts off, I couldn’t do it. Unless there is a monitor on the bus, there shouldn’t be seatbelts.
How do you make out at Christmas time?
We do very well with Dunkin Donuts gift cards. The buses get very cold – it’s hard to get warm when your door is always opening – and one of my moms gave me a very nice blanket. I have great parents and great kids. I can say I know all the names of my elementary school kids, almost half of my middle school kids and about a handful of my high school kids. They’re usually sleeping.
Susan Flynn is associate editor at Boston Parents Paper. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.