School bus drivers make a difference in lives of students
Tammy Stephens has a passion for caring for the children who ride her school bus. Her dedication to the students each school day for the last thirty-five years led the Canton resident to be recognized as the 2022 Cherokee County School District [CCSD] Bus Driver of the Year.
For school bus driver Lynn Moore, the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Woodstock middle and high school students keeps her motivated. Lynn was honored for her work as the Woodstock Innovation Zone Bus Driver of the Year.
Tammy and Lynn are just two of the hundreds of dedicated bus drivers who transport more than 28,000 students on 373 buses encompassing 1,962 total routes and averaging 26,500 miles a day—almost four million miles a year.
The inaugural CCSD Bus Driver of the Year Awards presented in July recognized one outstanding school bus driver from each Innovation Zone and one from CCSD’s team of Special Education drivers. Each Innovation Zone consists of one high school and the middle and elementary schools associated with it. One overall winner is then selected from the group of honorees.
In addition to Cherokee and Woodstock Zone honorees Tammy and Lynn, the other Innovation Zone honorees are Misty Prestridge (Creekview Zone), Christine Minter (Etowah Zone), Shanon Pruitt (River Ridge Zone), Max Woodall (Sequoyah Zone), and Linette Mitchell (Special Education).
School Bus Driver Appreciation
On October 18 Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta [CHOA] and the Cherokee County School District hosts a School Bus Driver Appreciation Breakfast to thank all the dedicated school bus drivers throughout the county. CHOA Community Development Officer Janet Read regards bus drivers as a vital part of the education process and emphasizes the importance of recognizing their roles. “The bus drivers, like many other wonderful staff members, work behind the scenes. Their job is very vital–especially to parents who don’t have the ability [or] flexibility to drive their children to school each day. They are another constant in many children’s lives.”
Janet continues, “Both of my sons rode the bus to school every day until they could drive themselves. I know firsthand how dedicated the drivers are. I want every driver to know that they are an important part of the Cherokee County School District.”
Award-winner Tammy decided to become a bus driver because she so fondly remembered her own school bus driver when she was a student. “I wanted to grow up and be like Joyce Pitts, who was my bus driver,” she explains with a laugh. “I always had a passion for children. I decided after I graduated from high school I wanted to work with children, and I taught Head Start from 1979 to 1986.” Tammy offers of her decision some thirty-five years ago, “When my son was born, I decided I wanted a more flexible job. I talked to [other bus drivers] Doris Teague, Joyce Pitts, and Linda Lummus about becoming a bus driver and started in 1987.”
What keeps Tammy going is the children she gets to know as they ride her bus each day. “It’s really exciting to see the kids that want to learn. First you have to establish rules. I was taught safety first, and I just keep doing it—safety, safety, safety. I tell them the rules apply to everyone. It doesn’t matter who they are. Safety is first,” shares Tammy. The veteran school bus driver always goes the extra mile for her children. Tammy’s caring attitude is in part the reason she was awarded the prestigious new award.
“If they need something, like a pencil, I make sure to give them one. If they are good for a week, I give them something. I put together gift bags at Christmas. I have always been compassionate. I was taught that by my grandmother,” Tammy recalls.
The Most Precious Cargo
Janet, who before working for CHOA was the chair of the Cherokee County School Board, emphasizes the importance of bus drivers. “Our bus drivers carry the most precious cargo every day over hundreds of miles of Cherokee County. They are usually the first to see the students and the last. They know when someone needs a little extra attention or a little more grace.”
During the snowstorm of 2014 Cherokee County bus drivers stepped up to safely deliver children home or back to their schools where teachers and staff awaited them. Janet remembers countless stories of parents’ confidence in Cherokee County school bus drivers, often sharing with her that they knew their child’s bus driver was keeping their kids safe and that they weren’t worried because the drivers “treat their students like they are their own children.” Cherokee County school bus drivers are trained year-round to make sure they are prepared to serve students and respond to emergencies. Drivers know the best practices for operating their vehicles, which includes inspections before and after every trip, and also learn first aid, bus management, and other tools for success. Students must follow the same code of conduct on school buses as they do in the classroom, and drivers study up to ensure adherence.
Lynn Moore has been making sure Woodstock students get to and from school safely each day since August 27, 2007. “Primarily when I first started it was to have a full-time job with benefits with a shorter time to work. That was my draw. But as I began the work and got to know the kids, I got more in line with what the Lord has in mind for me with this job,” Lynn remembers. “There is this connection you make with children that not many get the chance to make. I get the opportunity to put something structurally sound in them, if not outright love. At the least I want to help them make it to adulthood with as few problems as needed.”
There have been times when Lynn has driven the same children for five years, from kindergarten to fifth grade. “The most positive thing is to give the kids the opportunity to have the first interaction they have each day be a positive one, to help them start the day peacefully and ready to learn,” Lynn says. “I want to continue to be a person who adds to their lives in a positive way and to be a part of their educational memories in a good way—to keep myself in check, so I am the same person each day, and to help them to be positive, and when they look back remember it as a good time.”
When presenting the awards to Tammy and the other honorees, Cherokee County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower emphasized the importance of school bus drivers: “Our dedicated school bus drivers carry our community’s most precious cargo more than four million miles every year to and from our schools. We greatly appreciate each of them for their service and are proud to honor the best of the best with this new award. [Tammy] is a legend for her years of dedicated service, including many with perfect attendance, her mentorship of new bus drivers, and her dedication to the safety and well-being of every student she serves.”
The School Bus Driver Appreciation Breakfast in October is held at two locations—one in Holly Springs and one in Woodstock—and provides breakfast at both locations simultaneously to about five hundred drivers and shop staff members. For the last two years the event has been held as drive-throughs for the drivers with their buses. CCSD senior staff and transportation staff members greet the drivers as they come through each location. The Holly Springs location has the Lunch Bus out front as well. School board members are invited to join the event at either location.
“The smiles on the faces of the drivers and the bus attendants as they roll through are a mile wide,” Janet says with a grin.
To hear where our award-winning school system came from and where it’s going, listen to the Enjoy Cherokee Voices podcast as host Jodi Drinkard sits down with Cherokee County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower, who brings perspective to his leadership by sharing his upbringing.
Canton writer Rebecca Johnston is a Cherokee County native and graduate of Cherokee High School and the University of Georgia. Rebecca has won several Georgia Press Association awards for her writing, including the 2007 First Place Award for Serious Columnist. She currently writes for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine.