School bus driver Deana Ready rises at 3:30 a.m. and is prepared to navigate busy roads at early light. She greets the students on her route with a smile every day, making sure they start off on a positive note. Ready’s official role is transportation specialist for North Thurston Public Schools. Whether it’s the students she transports for River Ridge High School, for Chambers Prairie Elementary, or midday preschoolers, the kids on her routes familiarly call her “Miss Deana” or “Bus Driver.”
North Thurston Bus Driver Finds a Calling in an Unexpected Role
Before encountering her bus driving job, Ready volunteered for 10 years taking foster children on supervised visits or to doctor appointments across four different counties. When she decided to take a break from the busy schedule, a next-step opportunity didn’t present itself immediately as she needed a job that didn’t require standing. Driving a bus was not her first choice originally, but at the humorous prompting of her husband, the pieces began to fall into place.
“We were driving by Nisqually Middle School and that big sign was hanging on the fence that said, ‘We need drivers,’ and he said, ‘Well, look at that. You don’t have to stand up to do that job.’ I told him, ‘Challenge accepted.’ He didn’t think I would do it, and that’s why I call it a dare,” Ready says. “I had an aunt who drove a bus for 50 years in Shelton. I grew up watching her drive a school bus, and I swore I would never do that. I called the number on the sign. I went to orientation, and here I am. This is the best job I’ve had in my 30-year career. It is the most rewarding thing I’ve done, and I’ve done some pretty rewarding things.”
Ready’s only prior experience with driving a large vehicle was their Ford F250 pick-up truck, but the school district provided all her training.
“The trainers have a way of giving you self-confidence on the very first day,” Ready says. “The first thing we did was go out in a 40-foot bus in the bus yard and go backward through a serpentine, in and out of the traffic cones. We had the trainer there telling us, ‘You’re getting a little too close. You’re getting a little too far away or you’re way, way off and we’re gonna start over.’ Within two weeks I was out on the road driving.”
School Bus Drivers are a Big Part of Students’ School Days
Ready drives a wheelchair lift-equipped, propane-powered bus for students with accommodations. Her key to success on the road is her proactive, heartfelt approach of just letting them know she is happy they are there.
“My kids know that I value them as people,” Ready says. “I don’t view them as my source of income. I could do any other job. They’re people that I enjoy spending time with every day. It’s not, ‘Get on the bus and behave until we get to school, and we’ll all be happy.’ When they get on the bus, I greet them with a smile every single day. I greet them by name. I always compliment them on something, about their smile or what they choose to wear or just that they’re there. I never start a day with a student on a negative note. It’s always positive, even if it’s a student that has a hard time being positive on the bus.”
Ready’s routes cover the Nisqually Valley, the Yelm Highway and the Saint Clair Cut Off Road area and out to Chambers Prairie. She keeps her riders’ eyes out the windows with road trip games, keeps their attention with sing-a-longs and trivia questions, and uses stickers and music choice privileges as fun rewards.
North Thurston School District Bus Driver Joys and Responsibilities
Occasionally challenges present themselves. A microburst in the Yelm Highway and College Street intersection brought trees and debris down, blocking nearly all roads. Ready and other drivers couldn’t get in or out of route locations. Through teamwork, they got everybody home, and Ready is adamant that the support spans from paras, substitute drivers, office personnel and the supervisors.
As a daily contact in students’ lives, Ready gets to know them. One student, who faced some personal challenges and was also extremely kind to the students on Ready’s bus, occasionally checked out a guitar from school to use at home. Ready communicated with the school principal who arranged for the student to help out in a classroom, and Ready developed a plan to secure a guitar for the student. As Ready shared about her goal, a local pawn shop sold the guitar for half price. Coworkers pitched in, and the student’s family, principal and Ready’s own supervisor all showed up when the guitar was presented.
Lacey students have a gem of a driver who makes sure she is a positive, shining light to start their school day. In her job search, she found the balance of a giving, community role that was both good for her and for those she serves. Bus drivers are always needed, and it’s a public service job that has a daily, positive impact on many lives.