In addition to being Black History Month, February is also “Love the Bus Month,” a time to recognize school bus drivers for their vital role in safely transporting students to and from school. The week of February 9-13 is celebrated as NC School Bus Driver Appreciation Week.
Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott noted that this is an especially good time to thank bus drivers in the Watauga County Schools for their hard work. “Safely transporting our students and from school every day is an essential and often challenging duty,” said Elliott. “Our drivers must cope with difficult mountain roads and all kinds of weather while keeping students safe. We are truly grateful for their service and we encourage others to show their appreciation for all that they do.”
Speaking at Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Transportation Director Jeff Lyons noted that the drivers of the 41 buses in the school system safely transport 1,800 children over more than 2,600 miles of roads each school day. “The school bus driver is the first person these students see outside the home each morning and the last person they see before they return home,” he remarked. “Our drivers operate punctually, efficiently, and most important of all, safely. I want to recognize and thank all Watauga County Schools bus drivers for their dedication and for the service they provide to our students.”
Also at Monday’s Board meeting, Dr. Elliott pointed out that it was especially appropriate that the February recipient of the Servant’s Heart Award is Terry Gunnell-Beck, who is a bus driver for Hardin Park School in addition to being a full time teacher assistant. Elliott remarked that Gunnell-Beck, “like all of our drivers, knows every child and every family on his route. He knows which roads are likely to be dangerous in bad weather, and where families will meet him if he is unable to reach their homes. He knows who has been sick, who just received a special award, and which child might be in need of a special pick me up before walking through the school house doors.”
Last month’s recipient of the Servant’s Heart Award, Gary Church, also has an important role in school bus service. He is the lead mechanic in the school system garage that maintains and repairs school buses. The Servant’s Heart Award is a monthly honor to recognize employees “who go above and beyond the call of duty to serve our schools and students…the recipients reflect what we value about the many leaders and selfless servants in our school system: dedication to a job well done, a big heart that cares for others, a positive attitude that inspires others to work hard, and a healthy perspective on the importance of our mission that rises above the day to day tasks of work.”
Statewide, 13,300 yellow school buses take to the roads each school day to transport approximately 800,000 students to and from school. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson issued a statement acknowledging the importance of school bus transportation for public education. “Without school buses and drivers, many students would face significant challenges in finding safe, dependable transportation to and from school,” she said. “Buses and bus drivers provide a critical service to North Carolina families and we should take time to recognize this and honor drivers for the important role they play in making sure all children have access to public schools.”
National statistics show that school buses are about six times safer than personal vehicles. In addition to being safer, school buses also offer the benefits of reduced fuel consumption and lower carbon emissions per passenger compared to personal vehicles.
Dr. Elliott (on left) presents Terry Gunnell-Beck with the Watauga County Schools Servant’s Heart Award