Longtime Nevada County bus driver recalls experience
Driving involves focus and navigation skills under the best of circumstances. But it takes a special skill set to handle screaming and misbehaving children at the same time.
It’s a life that Jerri Cabral, a school bus driver of 40 years, knows well.
“Through the years, you always have the kids that are the ornery ones and then you have the kids that are respectful,” said Cabral.
During a ceremony at Durham School Services on May 15, Cabral was recognized, along with other longtime drivers, including Caryn Wilder, 35 years; Michelle Norton, 25 years and 20-year drivers Kathryn Cresswell and Karen Marinelli.
Cabral took on the job at the suggestion of her friends, who were both longtime bus drivers.
“I never would have even thought about it, but their daughter just took the test and they finally convinced me to take the class,” she said.
Cabral recalled how nervous she was during her first bus driving test, which was completed with shaking knees.
“I could hardly walk to the bus with the officer,” Cabral said. “I was nervous for my driver’s license test, but nothing like that. It’s a whole different world.” Interaction with children was new territory for Cabral, but she learned to adjust.
“When I first started out, I had no idea how to deal with children and their behavior, but over the years I learned — and I also had a lot of training,” Cabral said.
Part of the challenge with children is understanding how to remove yourself from a situation, take nothing personally and learn to stand your ground, she said.
“I learned to not give in when a child is saying, ‘I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me.’ You just have to stay on task and stay with it,” Cabral said.
Most students are respectful and can bring joy to the job, Cabral said.
“I really enjoy the little ones from kindergarten through third grade,” she said. “They’re like babies and are always open to learning new things, and they’re a lot of fun. The middle school kids are fun, too, just a little more rowdy. I like all of it, even the ornery ones.”
Sometimes Cabral creates a scenario with children and asks them to think about potential consequences if they refuse to sit in their seats.
“Even a kindergartner can understand if I had to brake suddenly that they can go through the windshield or hit the dashboard, and it helps a little,” Cabral said.
Learning how to drive the bus required at least 20 hours of classroom training and a behind-the-wheel test monitored by the California Highway Patrol.
“It’s like trying to turn a box around the corner that doesn’t bend in the middle, so it takes up a lot of space,” Cabral noted.
When Cabral started her career in the 1970s, buses were especially difficult to maneuver as they had manual transmissions, which required the use of a double clutch and throttle controls that had to be shifted separately, unlike today’s modern stick-shift vehicles.
Cabral was relieved when all buses became automatic in the 1990s, she said.
“There have been many changes to make children safer in school buses, which, by the way, are the safest passenger vehicles on the road because of all the regulations,” Cabral said.
Unlike the renewal of a regular driver’s license, which only requires a written exam, bus drivers have to complete updated class training, a written exam and another behind-the-wheel test.
“The classroom takes probably 27 hours for the state requirements, and there are company requirements, as well,” said Cabral, who has trained drivers for many years.
“We never turn them loose until we’re absolutely certain that they’re ready for that test and to drive children, so it can take up to 30 hours. It just depends on the individual.”
The yelling and screaming can be difficult for a new driver, she said.
“After a while, you try to shut out the meaningless noise and focus on anything that might mean an emergency,” Cabral said.
“I remember someone telling a new driver, ‘Unless you see blood running down the aisle, don’t focus on the kids when you first start, focus on your driving.’”
Even after 40 years, Cabral said she is unsure whether or not she plans to retire.
“I did some jobs before driving school buses, but this has been my life for so long,” she said. “It’s hard to even think about doing anything other than driving a bus.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
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