The Wheels on the Bus

Admit it. You just sang “go round and round” in your head. September brings cooler temperatures, football season, and the start of a new school year accompanied by a fleet of familiar vehicles on northern Michigan roads. Recognized by their distinctive color and flashing lights, school buses transported an estimated 26.9 million students in the United States last year.

Buses can only operate with a dedicated crew of drivers, and one of the best can be found in Chippewa Hills. Kent Blackmer says the first day of school can be a bittersweet time. “Summer is over, but I see all the kids again!” Yes, Kent loves being part of the kids’ day. He feeds off their energy each morning, and Ken admits some days can be pandemonium, especially with the elementary kids. High school students, however, are surprisingly mellow, most listening to their music or reading during the trip to and from school.

A six-year veteran of the Chippewa Hills School District, Ken enjoys many laughs with the kids each day. Most know him by name. Some simply refer to him as Mr. Bus Driver. Either way, he says, the kids are “respectful and well behaved.” And the parents? “Supportive and, like most of us, happy to have an expert behind the wheel!”

While Kent enjoys driving, he says the job does have its share of stress. “You always have to be on guard. My job is to be aware. Sometimes awareness can be difficult, especially when noise levels rise or winter roads are slippery, but I can’t get distracted.” Safety is paramount. Kent insists that students follow rules on his bus. And while he can’t control other motorists on the road, he hopes drivers watch out for his big yellow bus. “Unfortunately, people do run my stop sign.” When they do, he gets a plate number and reports the driver.

School buses across the state roll out every morning and afternoon with drivers like Kent, happy to be behind the wheel. Kent said he does have an all-time favorite part of the job. “It may seem silly,” he remarked. “But I always enjoy the reaction of the family pets when they see their children coming up the driveway happy to see them come home.”