Massachusetts district modernizes fleet by going electric

LAWRENCE, Mass. – As gas prices remain an ongoing concern, too many districts continue paying a premium to keep fleets moving.

In addition to contending with the cost of fueling school buses with diesel fuel, is the issue of significant emissions.

Looking to the future, officials announced plans Monday to update the district’s fleet on the grounds of Lawrence High School.

Among those on hand were two members of Congress, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan (MA-03). Each voted in support of implementing funding for the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program. Between fiscal year 2022 and 2026, the program will allocate $5 billion to replace existing school buses.

While at the podium, Sen. Markey looked back to the history of the combustion engine. Citing the combustion engine’s over 100 years of market dominance, he said, “that reign’s about to come to an end.”

Turning that corner will be achieved by the Lawrence schools receiving grant funding to purchase 25 zero-emissions school buses. The school district received the largest grant funding in the state, nearly $10 million for the buses. Among the benefits will be spending less on diesel fuel to operate the fleet, while cutting community emissions.

As noted by Tim Sheehan, Senior Vice President of Operations, New England for Beacon Mobility, NRT Bus has been working with the Lawrence Public Schools since 1998. The contract has served as one of NRT’s longest standing contracts in the state.

The motivation behind upgrading the fleet was multifaceted, explained Sheehan. “Transitioning to clean energy is a critical puzzle piece, in the state’s overall goal to cut emissions,” Sheehan noted. “We are pleased to be leading the charge, by investing in electric school buses to cleaner, more energy-efficient vehicles.”

Stepping Up to Create a Healthier Environment

Among the various speakers, whether it be Sen. Markey, Rep. Trahan, Sheehan or David Cash, EPA Administrator for Region 1, each talked about the value of moving to electric buses and helping to reduce emissions.

Cash recalled his time as a student, and his less than ideal experience waiting for a bus. “When I was a kid, I would wait on my corner waiting for my school bus. When that bus arrived, mmmm … it was stinky. I had friends who got headaches.”

Fast forward to a time when Cash talked of his time working as a teacher in Amherst, Massachusetts. “I would be there, welcoming kids in the morning, with bus after bus after bus (coming and going),” Cash said. “I would be smelling that sweet, acrid diesel, and I knew there had to be a better way.”

That “better way” became possible with the infrastructure bill recently passed by the House of Representatives, on Nov. 5, 2021. “It opened up the opportunity” for drivers to begin driving electric buses with the allocated funding, Cash noted.

Creating a healthier environment, though, goes well beyond eliminating an acrid smell or avoiding headaches, emphasized Cash. With the first year of funding, “we are prioritizing those in greatest need” including in urban areas, “where we know the asthma rates for kids are higher than normal.”

With the new buses, Sen. Markey noted that the district would be “investing in greener buses, so that we can do more learning, and less fossil fuel burning.”

Following the announcement of how the Lawrence Public Schools will be replacing some of its aging fleet through the Clean School Bus program, Beacon Mobility SVP of Operations, New England, Tim Sheehan (second left) stands with U.S. EPA Chief of Staff Sanjay Seth (far left); Lawrence Public Schools superintendent Cynthia Paris (middle), U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Lawrence Mayor Brian De Peña (far right).
Photo by ANDRES CAAMANO
Beacon Mobility SVP of Operations, New England, Tim Sheehan talks to the audience during the event announcing that the Lawrence Public Schools are to bring on 10 new electric school buses.
Photo by ANDRES CAAMANO

School bus driver recruitment bouncing back after pandemic shortage

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM, Aug. 29) – This week marks the first day of school for many across western Massachusetts. We know the pandemic worsened the nationwide school bus driver shortage and last school year, some districts faced bus route delays because of it.
“I kind of looked at it and I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve driven a mom van before, so it’s a bus,” said Holly Bartolon, a school bus driver with Travel Kuz.

Bartolon’s search for a part-time, flexible job resulted in the mom of three climbing into the front seat of a school bus.

“I actually received a flyer from my kid’s school that said, ‘Hey, we need school bus drivers’ and I went, ‘Okay, why not?’” Bartolon explained.

Bartolon is one of 17 new bus drivers at Travel Kuz, which serves schools in Franklin County. One of the owners, Pam Reipold, told Western Mass News the new hires come after COVID-19 amplified an existing issue.

“Recruiting is always something that we do here, even pre-pandemic because there’s been a school driver shortage for a lot longer than the last couple of years,” Reipold added.

Reipold told us many bus drivers are retirees and chose not to return to work amid the pandemic.

“Across the country, there’s still a 10 percent driver shortage, but fortunately for us out here in western Mass., we’re prepared to start the school year with all of our routes covered and drivers for all those routes,” said Peter Delani, director of customer relations with Van Pool Transportation.

At a training event a few weeks ago in Springfield, Western Mass News caught up with Van Pool, which transports students with special needs in 30 local districts. The 100 new drivers are taught technical aspects as well as how to provide for students’ social and emotional needs.

“We have the first and the last opportunity each day as we bring kids to school and bring them home from school to make a difference in their lives,” Delani added.

Back at Travel Kuz, Bartolon has her first passenger: her daughter, Marisol, who will ride her mom’s bus to first grade this year.

“You can bring your toddlers on the bus with you, so you don’t have to pay for daycare. It’s a really great schedule. When there’s a snow day, you never have to worry about what to do with your own kids right because you’re generally home,” Reipold explained.

Students in Franklin County will be heading back to school Tuesday and Wednesday and 140 of Travel Kuz’s buses will be rolling out of the lot, so Travel Kuz is reminding drivers to be on the lookout.

“If you see a yellow bus driving around your neighborhood, you’ve got to assume that it’s going to stop,” Reipold noted.

She asked that parents have patience with bus drivers this week, who like Bartolon, will be learning a new route, and meeting new kids.

“To have people who want to do this and love being with the kids is, personally for me as a mom, is just so important,” Bartolon said.

Starting pay for a bus driver at Travel Kuz is $24 an hour and benefits include healthcare and retirement.

https://www.westernmassnews.com/2022/08/29/school-bus-driver-recruitment-bouncing-back-after-pandemic-shortage/

Push to recruit bus drivers in MA before first day of school

LAWRENCE, Mass. — Students in Massachusetts will be heading back to school in a few weeks and transportation companies are making a late push to recruit more bus drivers.

Beacon Mobility, which provides transportation for children in more than 60 school districts across the state, said it is facing a driver shortage of about 10%.

The company opened a storefront in Lawrence on Wednesday for a recruiting event and a number of people stopped by to apply for jobs.

“I’m a very safe driver. I’m punctual, responsible and I love kids,” said applicant Maritza Negron. “That’s all I can say. It’s good to help kids.”

Beacon Mobility said that starting pay for bus drivers is between $25 and $30 an hour.

“We’re hiring drivers — van drivers, bus drivers — and monitors,” said Melanie Castillo, of Beacon Mobility.

The company said that the current shortage is not as severe as it was last year, when Gov. Charlie Baker activated up to 250 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help communities across the state with school transportation.

“We’re going through the process of identifying where our roots are going to be, and then any areas that we anticipate that we might have some shortages,” said Peter Delani, of Beacon Mobility.

Castillo said Beacon Mobility is looking to hire about 200 new employees.

https://www.wcvb.com/article/massachusetts-school-bus-drivers-recruiting-push/40924591https://www.wcvb.com/article/parents-hoping-for-one-more-child-surprised-with-quadruplets/40936457

Help wanted at the wheel

The dad arrived with his young son in a stroller to the new bus driver and recruitment center in the heart of downtown Lawrence Thursday with no inkling the governor would be there within a few minutes to cut a ribbon and celebrate its opening.

Julio Mella, 55, of Lawrence, a former dump-truck driver two years removed from the Dominican Republic and living in Lawrence with his wife and their two children, had heard that 276 Essex St. was a place where he could apply for work.

He drove there looking for a dependable job with benefits that pays enough for him to support his family.

When Gov. Charlie Baker entered the new air-conditioned office with high ceilings, he instinctively stopped along the wall of well-wishers to scooch down and say “Hi” to Mella’s child and shake hands with the dad.

As it turned out, based on all that was said at the grand opening of the Lawrence Recruiting and Training Center, Mella looked to be the kind of person the transportation companies would be glad to bring aboard.

“This is one-stop shopping,” said Edith Yambo, vice president of recruitment for Beacon Mobility, a national transportation company with affiliates in Massachusetts that operate buses and vans transporting students.

The center has at least 200 driver openings for NRT Bus, Van Pool, Salter Transportation and other companies, she said at the podium, as colored balloons for the event floated behind her.

The positions offer drivers flexibility, training and a chance to make positive contributions to young people’s lives, bringing them to and from school, Yambo said, first in English and then Spanish.

People can apply in Spanish or English, receive training in either language and be hired as certified licensed drivers for careers that they can feel good about, she said

The grand opening was bilingual.

Lidia Taveras told the room that for 15 years she has driven school children in Lawrence and Methuen, and raised two children while she was working.

She brought them with her on the bus. Today, they are in their early 20s. Her daughter is studying for a degree in psychology at UMass Lowell and her son is a member of the U.S. Army Reserves.

Taveras now drives special needs students and looks forward to seeing their smiling faces each day.

Gov. Baker piggybacked on Taveras’ thought.

“This is exactly what this is about — to do something special for people in your community,” he said, before issuing a rallying cry for everyone to get to work.

Baker and others didn’t sugarcoat the moment, as employers in many sectors across the state and nation are having a hard time finding employees.

Last fall, due to a dire shortage of school bus drivers, the governor activated more than 200 Massachusetts National Guard members for almost two months in cities including Lawrence.

Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta said she has seen Lawrence come together in moments of crisis, and the city is emerging from a pandemic that inflicted disproportionate hurt from which it is still recovering.

Lawrence has a 6.8% unemployment rate, the highest in the state and New England. The rate for the Latino population, at 7.9%, is almost twice the state rate, she said.

The state lost 700,000 jobs during the pandemic but has gained back all but 75,000, she said.

The governor invited the guest speakers and participants to slip behind the wide, yellow ribbon for a countdown as it was cut with oversized scissors.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 4 p.m. No appointments are required.

There are currently openings for bus drivers, van drivers, bus monitors, transportation coordinators, charter drivers and fleet mechanics.

Proposed school bus cameras would capture driver violations

BOSTON – A new school bus technology that would make it safer for children to ride the school bus is being considered by legislators.

The legislation would allow video cameras on school buses to capture vehicles who don’t stop for buses with their lights on and ultimately take action against that driver.

“When they’re crossing the road to try to get into the bus and people are going by them and there are little ones that can sometimes dart, so the safety of everybody stopping and waiting for those kids to be secure on the bus,” said Lisa Alterisio of Beacon Mobility.

A car in New Hampshire hit a school bus after not stopping when the lights were flashing, and earlier this year, a child was hospitalized after being struck by a car that didn’t stop for the school bus signal.

The free service uses the cameras to capture anybody who would potentially pass a school bus and then enforcement and law enforcement review the photo. If they spot a violation, then the company sends a fine to the driver.

“Historically, across all of our programs that we support. 98% of folks who receive a fine in the mail never break the law again,” said Executive Vice President of BusPatrol Steve Randazzo.

On both sides of the street, it is a violation to pass a school bus whose lights are flashing,

“Children, who we have a tremendous obligation to protect, if a family sends their kid off to school, you want the kid to come home safely, so this is just common sense safety,” said Rep. Kevin Honan of Brighton.

If amendment 136 is passed, Massachusetts would be joining 20 states in including the technology on school buses.

The Human Element: Making things better for employees, customers

On April 26, School Transportation News rolled out a podcast, featuring Beacon Mobility CEO Judith Crawford.

During the podcast, the discussion revolved around the importance of training and partnerships, marketplace trends, and how to maximize support for both her team and the school districts that Beacon serves.

Listen in on the podcast, to learn how the company seeks to make things better for employees as well as its customers.

 

Salter driver once again helps Boston Marathon runners to start

HAMILTON (CBS) — For the last 22 years, Linda Heitz has been helping runners get to the starting line of the Boston Marathon.

“We all have a job to do here. And my job is to get you to the start line. Your job is to get to the finish. And I’m wishing you the very best of luck,” said Heitz.

The Hamilton woman says during the nearly hour long trip from Boston to Hopkinton, she gets to know her passengers.

“It’s a long ride. You get a chance to talk to a lot of the people, especially the ones that are right behind you,” said Heitz.

In over two decades of working the marathon, she’s seen a wide range of runners. Some are running it for the first time, while others are coming back year after year.

“They’re wonderful. They’re nervous some of them. Some are raring to go. You hear all different stories. I actually had one person get on one year that said, ‘I remember you from a few years ago,’” said Heitz.

The bus driver for Salter Transportation begins at 5:30 in the morning on race day, operating one of 400 buses for the company.

“It’s a part of Massachusetts history. And we get to be a little piece of it,” said Heitz.

For Linda, that history has included working the year of the marathon bombing, and the uneasy year that followed.

“There was definitely a different feel to everybody that got on board,” said Heitz.

In a few short days, when the seats of her bus are filled with people, she’s looking forward to one thing in particular.

“Normalcy. I want to see everybody and wish everybody luck. I think it’s going to be a good year,” said Heitz.

Welcome back to school. Your new driver is wearing fatigues.

CHELSEA, Mass. — When Sgt. Phillip Hickman served as the crew chief on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, he was responsible for maintaining the aircraft, firing a mounted weapon and overseeing everyone on board.

His current mission involves a different kind of cargo: middle-schoolers.

On a recent afternoon, Hickman was sitting behind the wheel of a silver school transport van wearing fatigues and a matching face mask. The dismissal bell was about to ring.

“I’m used to manifests and moving people around,” said Hickman, 36. But this “is the last thing I expected.”

Hickman is part of an unusual and unprecedented assignment. Faced with a shortage of school bus drivers, Massachusetts has deployed more than 200 members of the National Guard to help nine communities get their kids to school. People with knowledge of National Guard missions in the state say they can’t recall another time when soldiers have played this kind of role.

While Massachusetts is the only state to take such a step, the scarcity of bus drivers is impacting school districts across the country, leading to transportation delays, the disruption of extracurricular activities and even the suspension of in-person learning in a handful of cases.

The sight of men and women in uniform driving children to school highlights the profound ways the pandemic is reshaping the U.S. economy. There are shortages of workers in restaurants, hotels, day cares and nursing homes. The supply chain remains warped. But at the same time, new businesses have opened up at a record clip.

“The pandemic is so counterintuitive and paradoxical,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Economists are racing to understand the labor shortage, he said, but the most prevalent explanations — that government aid and uncertainties around child care have diminished the willingness to work — are not yet supported by data.

Autor believes many workers are simply changing tracks. Some people “have realized, ‘Wow, those jobs are more terrible than I realized,’ and they’re trying to switch to new activities,’” he said.

To deal with the shortage of school bus drivers, communities and businesses have had to improvise. School bus companies are offering free training and thousands of dollars in sign-on bonuses to attract recruits, whose wages can range from $16 to $30 an hour. Some states, like New York, have tried to speed up the licensing process for drivers. Philadelphia is offering parents $300 a month to drive their own kids to and from school.

Mirna Ardon lives in Chelsea, a tiny, densely populated city just north of Boston. She said her 14-year-old son Angel didn’t have reliable transportation for weeks — the bus was late or didn’t show up, and her husband couldn’t keep dropping off their son without losing hours and pay at his job.

Angel, who is autistic, struggles with interruptions to his routine. “The unreliability was making everyone agitated,” said Ardon, 44.

The first time Ardon saw a soldier behind the wheel of her son’s school transport van, she was relieved. The National Guard had been present in the community during the crushing first wave of the pandemic, distributing food and helping her neighbors. “There was trust and respect there,” she said.

On a recent Saturday morning, 27 members of the National Guard gathered at dawn in the parking lot of a Sheraton hotel near Boston. They practiced how to turn on a school bus’ stop sign, operate its wheelchair lifts and conduct the all-important post-drive walk through to ensure that no kids are left behind on the bus.

Later in the morning, an instructor congratulated them on passing their written tests and issued a final, crucial reminder: always make sure kids have someone waiting for them when they get off the bus.

John McCarthy, the chief executive of NRT Bus, was overseeing the training. Even before the pandemic, the school bus industry was scrambling for workers, McCarthy said. But he’s never seen anything like this. As September approached, his normal workforce — about 3,700 drivers — was down 15 percent.

Some of those who had left were older workers who decided to retire or didn’t want to risk possible infection. Other people took new jobs during the long months while kids were doing remote learning — jobs such as delivering packages for Amazon and UPS. “We’re all fishing from the same fishing hole,” said McCarthy. (Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, owns The Washington Post).

McCarthy emptied out his own offices to lend a hand with the shortage, putting managers and dispatchers behind the wheel. Often that has left just one person in each of the company’s locations. “Everybody else is driving,” said McCarthy. “It’s been a very stressful time.” He added that the firm has seen an uptick in recruits in recent weeks, giving him some hope that the acute shortage won’t last forever.

In New York, the situation is similar. David Christopher, executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, estimated that there were about 55,000 school bus drivers in the state before the pandemic and 15 to 20 percent of them have left the profession. “It’s the aging driving force, it’s the pandemic, it’s the availability of other kinds of jobs,” Christopher said.

Many school districts are finding ways to manage with fewer drivers, but if something goes awry, the consequences can be dramatic. Melinda Smith, superintendent of Thompson Public Schools in Connecticut, received a phone call early on a Sunday morning last month telling her that half of the district’s bus drivers had either tested positive for the coronavirus or were in quarantine.

Normally, she said, the bus company could pull substitute drivers from other locations. This time it was impossible. Unable to transport children, the district had to return its nearly 1,000 students to remote learning over a two-week period.

“This is the first time in my career that this has ever happened, that we can’t get kids to school,” said Thompson, who has worked in education for 40 years.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) authorized the deployment of up to 250 National Guard members to help drive children to school on Sept. 13.

At least nine cities are receiving assistance, including Chelsea, Lawrence, Lynn, Holyoke and Framingham. Timothy McGuirk, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, declined to say whether more cities would join them or how long the help would last. “We are just focusing on the mission,” he said.

That mission, called “Children First,” has soldiers driving various types of vans to transport children to school, rather than regular buses. That’s because such vans require what is known in Massachusetts as a “7D” license that is relatively easy to obtain. To drive a large school bus, a person needs a commercial driver’s license, which can take weeks.

In Chelsea, schools superintendent Almudena Abeyta initially hesitated to bring in National Guard members as drivers. Chelsea is a majority Latino community with a large immigrant population and Abeyta wondered how parents “would feel if someone in uniform picks up their child for school.” But after conferring with other city officials, she said yes.

When the school year started, Abeyta’s office had been flooded with calls from parents saying their kids were arriving to class late, or took forever to get home, or the bus never came.Some people might say that the situation isn’t an emergency, she said. But “educating children and getting them to school on time, in my opinion, is worth the National Guard coming in.”

On a recent cloudy afternoon, three soldiers arrived in quick succession and parked their vans outside the front entrance of the Morris H. Seigal Clark Avenue School in Chelsea.

Richard Gibbs, 23, was sitting behind the wheel of a red van with a bus monitor at his side. These days he rises by 4 a.m., drives his van from Camp Curtis Guild in Reading, picks up the bus monitor and two rounds of children, then returns by around 9 a.m. — before doing it all again in the afternoon.

A boy arrived carrying a black backpack, a sweatshirt tied around his waist. He bumped fists with Gibbs, then climbed into the back of the van and fastened his seat belt. “They’re great kids,” Gibbs said.

A few vehicles down, Hickman, the former helicopter crew chief, leaned out the driver’s side window to review a list of students with the school’s special education coordinator. He said that the kids have adjusted to their new driver with a minimum of fuss.

Only rarely does a student ask him about being a soldier. Instead, Hickman said, they just want to know “why they aren’t home yet.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/10/07/school-bus-shortage-massachusetts-national-guard/

Mass. National Guard Steps in to Aid in School Transportation

READING – It usually takes longer than one day to become a school bus driver but more than 60 members of the Massachusetts National Guard were able to go through the entire process Tuesday at Camp Curtis Guild and they’ll be ready to hit the streets this week.

Sixty-seven members of the National Guard left Camp Curtis Guild with a new 7D certification in hand and will begin bus routes throughout Lowell, Chelsea and Lynn as early as Thursday.

(On Sept. 14) we had 75 members come out and 67 passed that course, which was great,” NRT Bus CEO John McCarthy said. “These folks will be in uniform, meeting kids just like bus drivers do, bringing them to school, so they’re really excited about this mission.”

John McCarthy is the CEO of NRT Bus – which provides transportation for students throughout Massachusetts and is working to train National Guard members.

“They’re very positive about taking children to school, they think it’s a unique opportunity to connect with the community in a different way,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said members started the day at 7:30 a.m. and went through fingerprinting, classroom exams and road tests, all to help the state deal with a shortage of bus drivers. NRT Bus reports it was down 350 employees three weeks ago but said the National Guard will be able to fill the void as they recruit new drivers.

“These folks went on and found other jobs,” McCarthy said. “We also had a little bit of a challenge with the unemployment being extended to where it is but we’re seeing a lot of candidates come in through the door now.”

McCarthy said another 65 service members will be training for their 7D certification Wednesday at Camp Curtis Guild and they’re set to begin helping the Lawrence school district on Monday.

She’s in the driver’s seat and the kids love it

DRACUT — From the driver’s seat of the school bus she’s driven here for nearly a half a century now, Ginger Caggiano has been a dutiful, gasoline-powered lesson in longevity, dedication, and street-smart diplomacy.

She’s the smiling fixture behind the wheel, opening her yellow doors to generations of children who have used crayons and pencils to send her messages of gratitude.

She’s seen hemlines rise and fall.

She’s seen haircuts morph from buzz cuts to shoulder-length. And back.

She’s scolded bullies and comforted scared little kids dressed in fresh new clothes on their way to their first day of school.

At 81, as another school year has arrived, she has tended her garden, doted on her flowers, and savored the summer sun.

And now it’s time to start up her school bus again.

“It’s a great excitement for me,’’ she told me as we sat on her bus at the transportation company yard here the other day. “It’s just a tradition. All my life, I’ve just enjoyed it. I love the first day of school. If I couldn’t be behind the wheel on the first day, I’d be so sad.’’

So would all those little school kids. So would their teary-eyed parents, who kiss them goodbye. So would her co-workers for whom she is both role model and a kind of transportation den mother.

And legend.

“It takes a special person to do what she does,’’ said John J. McCarthy, the chief executive of Trombly Motor Coach Service Inc. “School bus drivers don’t grow on trees. She really is a gift to the industry. And she’s a great driver.’’

“She cares,’’ agreed Lynda Cruz, the bus terminal manager. “That’s huge. She is here every day. She cares about the kids. And that’s the important part.’’

Virginia Caggiano learned that lesson early in her life. You could say it’s in her blood.

She was raised in Boston. Her father drove a big rig truck and eventually moved the family to Everett, where Virginia graduated from high school in 1957.

“I walked to school,’’ she said. “No bus for me.’’

Eventually, after a 10-year stint in the underwriting department for John Hancock Life Insurance Co. where she started work in 1957, she married, moved from Everett to Dracut, and joined a summer softball league team.

“So, these softball players drove school buses and some of them came in and said to me: ‘Would you like to train?’ ‘’ she recalled.

Well, yes, she told them. Sign me up.

And that’s why generations of school kids here learned to greet “Ginger,’’ each morning, a name that was inadvertently shortened by a niece for whom “Virginia” was just too much of a mouthful.

“So, for years, everybody here at the bus company calls me Ginger,’’ she said.

They call her other things too. Professional. Patient. A skilled school bus driver with genuine heart.

“She’s been doing it since I was 3 years old,’’ said her daughter, 51-year-old Lynda Caggiano. “I remember being a little girl and going with her on the bus. She loves the kids. She loves the people. My mother is a very people person.’’

That’s a prerequisite for a job behind the wheel with precious cargo wearing backpacks, staring back at you in that big mirror above the driver’s seat.

“You have to learn how to park,’’ she said. “You have to back up. You have to always watch your mirrors. Those mirrors are your guide. You always have to see what’s going on. You have to watch the kids.

“You have to have four eyes really. You’ve got to watch everything going on.’’

And as the miles — and the years — pass behind you on all those trips to school, you learn to develop a special set of street smarts.

“You have to have patience,’’ she said. “That’s the main thing. Patience. Be kind. Be a good listener. And make friends with the worst kid on the bus. And I used to have some really rough ones.’’

But, she said, kids are kids. Treat them as you’d like to be treated. And the bus will calm down.

“My whole outlook is that if you have a bad kid, they’re not really bad,’’ she said. “They’re just showing off. And I always had a way about me that kids remember me, especially the worst ones. I meet them on the street — even now to this day — and they come by my house now for Halloween with their own kids.’’

Hi, Ginger. Trick or treat?

Mostly it’s been a treat for Virginia Caggiano, who started out earning $3 an hour, a wage that across the decades has grown to $22 an hour.

There have been some unsettling bumps along the way.

She’s an ovarian cancer survivor.

She’s also a survivor of a head-on crash by a driver who, she said, was impaired — an incident that occurred years ago.

She’s dutifully obeyed the careful protocols brought on by the COVID pandemic.

When she’s behind the wheel, she adopts a no-nonsense persona.

She won’t put up with foul language.

She won’t tolerate any behavior that would imperil the kids seated behind her.

She used to drive a 47-foot bus. But her cargo is no less precious on the smaller bus she drives now.

“She was the one who ultimately said she was going to drive a smaller bus,’’ McCarthy said. “She made that decision. She knows what her capabilities are. And she knows her limitations.’’

And she knows how the parents feel on these first days of school — a mixture of relief and anxiety. The need to linger just a bit before saying goodbye, trusting their children to the kindly, smiling woman behind the wheel.

“Sometimes it’s hard for some of the kids to let loose of the parent,’’ she said. “So, I have to help them on the bus and tell them what a wonderful day they’re going to have. And I put them in the seat.’’

And then it’s time to sit behind the wheel, fasten the seat belt, and guide the yellow bus to the schoolhouse door.

And when school’s out, there are frequent reminders about this special bond formed on that yellow bus.

“All the time,’’ she said. “I’m in Hannaford or I’m in Market Basket and the kids will say, ‘Mom! That’s Ginger over there! Let’s go see her!’

“I can hear them and it’s great. It really is. On Halloween I have a big display in front of my house and in my garage and they come from all over. They know Ginger’s the place for Halloween. And they come to see me.

“And I see the parents of kids used to drive. Grandparents I used to drive. Yeah. We’re going way back. And it’s a good feeling.’’

Summer’s over. Fall is in the air.

And the schoolhouse door has swung open again.

And Ginger Caggiano, that kindly woman behind the wheel, is ready to take her kids to the place where the teachers take over.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/09/12/metro/shes-drivers-seat-kids-love-it/