With a little guidance from trained professionals, parents got a chance to drive the signature black and yellow vehicle around the parking lot of Veramendi Elementary School Thursday evening.
This was the first time New Braunfels ISD has held the event, which was created in response to the bus driver shortage affecting school districts across the country, in hopes that a taste of driving a school bus might inspire some to make it a job.
“We’re short on drivers, and we need people in this district and in this community to possibly want to jump on board and help us out with delivering our kids,” said Brian Gibson, the director of transportation for NBISD. “(I’m) hoping that at the end of it also some parents might decide they want to get more involved in becoming an employee for the district.”
At the moment NBISD is down 10 bus drivers but has a sufficient plan to handle the roughly 48 routes drivers take daily, said Kristie Marquess with the district’s transportation department.
“We have plans to double up on routes or to split some routes and disperse them among routes that are in the same area that can take one or two stops, so all the kids still get to school on time,” Marquess said.
With buses outfitted with adjustable seats and pedals, the district set out to prove that anyone can drive a bus regardless of height, weight and other physical factors.
“I have people who are 5 feet and just a hair under that drive buses for us and as tall as 6-foot-8 — anybody can do it,” said Gibson, the brainchild behind the event.
Those who signed liability forms were able to make sharp left-hand turns in the parking lot with the help of licensed bus drivers from the district every step of the way.
Participants drove some of the most modern buses in the fleet equipped with seatbelts, a camera monitoring system and other safety features to get students safely to and from school.
In addition to allowing parents an opportunity to experience driving a bus, the bus took some smaller passengers to the elementary school they are attending this school year.
The kids’ short trip from New Braunfels High School to Veramendi Elementary School with their parents was intended to make the children more comfortable taking the bus while ensuring parents they are in safe hands.
“Some people are intimidated, especially parents with young students on the first day of school,” Gibson said. “I can understand it can be very intimidating… but the whole point is it’s the safest vehicle on the road. We want our students to (feel) welcomed and not have any intimidation when they get on.”
Selina Knuth took her son, who is attending Veramendi Elementary School, along with her younger children on the ride to get him accustomed to taking the bus and settle her nerves before the first day of school.
“Honestly, he’s never been on the school bus before and he’s starting kindergarten, so we thought it’d just be like a good introduction to get him in here just to see what the school buses are like,” Knuth said. “It really helps make me feel more comfortable.”
After the success of its first run, NBISD and the district’s transportation department anticipate making Ride and Drive an annual event.
NBISD is offering paid training for approved applicants 18 and older with a valid driver’s license. To apply for one of the district’s open entry-level CDL driver positions, visit https://newbraunfels.tedk12.com/hire/Index.aspx.