School bus drivers across America are enjoying a rare moment in the spotlight this week. Bus Driver Appreciation Week is celebrated annually in February to raise awareness and appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of bus drivers who transport the nation's children to and from school.
Jackson County's 38 fulltime bus drivers log a combined 2,315 miles on the road every day carrying an average of 1,440 students to the district's nine schools. Nearly 40% of the total student population of Jackson County Public Schools relies on school buses for transportation.
JCPS Director of Transportation Josh Francis said bus drivers shoulder a huge amount of responsibility as they complete their routes. "They are responsible for a vehicle that is 36 feet long, weighs about 27,000 pounds and can hold up to 66 students at a time," he said. "They handle that big bus, and they handle the students as well. It's a tough job."
But Francis said it's not just the job of driving that impacts students. "Bus drivers are so important to our county," he said. "They are the first ones to meet the students each day, and they can change a student's perspective with a smile and just their kindness. A bus driver can play a huge role in a student's life."
Aimee Karup has driven a bus in Jackson County for 20 years. "The best thing about driving a school bus is the relationships you have with the children," said Karup. "You're kind of a family. I look after them, and they look after me."
Director Francis encourages the community to recognize and express their appreciation to those who carry such precious cargo. "I can't tell you how much we appreciate our drivers," he said. "I think they are all wonderful folks, and they start a lot of kids off right every single day."